Residents allowed to return home after Washington County gas refinery leak

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Lightning hit a gas refinery plant in Washington County this evening, and an ensuing fire caused a leak of product that formed a plume over the plant, county 911 operations manager Ken Bollinger said.

Residents in a 2-mile area were evacuated, but were allowed to return to their homes around 9:40 p.m.

Shortly after 6 p.m., a worker at the MarkWest Energy Partners refinery, 800 Western Ave. in Chartiers Township, called 911 to report the lightning strike and fire, which was quickly extinguished, Mr. Bollinger said.

"It appears there may have been some product leaking into the atmosphere," he said. Neighbors reported seeing a plume over the refinery.

MarkWest spokesman Robert McHale, who was on the scene said there were 15 employees on site at time of lightning strike.

All employees and contractors have been accounted for and no injuries have been reported, according to Mr. Bollinger and Mr. McHale.

The plant will remain shut down until a thorough inspection has been completed, Mr. McHale said in a statement. Company officials did not immediately identify the substance or substances that composed the plume observed over the plant.

The county Department of Public Safety's hazardous materials team is on site monitoring air quality and "anything in the atmosphere," Mr. Bollinger said. Public safety director Jeffrey Yates is also on-scene.

Homes near the plant were evacuated. A bus company helped transport residents north of the plant to the Mt. Pleasant Township Volunteer Fire Company in Hickory and those south of the plant to the Chartiers Volunteer Fire Hall in Houston. Mr. Bollinger said he was unsure how many people had been evacuated.

The Houston Borough Volunteer Fire Department started evacuating homes closest to the plant and "moved outward until they felt the plume had dissipated," he said.

About 50 people gathered at the Charters fire hall late Wednesday. Four tables in the humid hall were surrounded by metal folding chairs filled with chatty neighbors. Lap dogs rested on their owners' legs. Plastic cups were filled with lemonade and water provided by the Salvation Army.

Among the group, Anthony Mankey, who lives about a mile from the refinery, sat with his wife, Linell, and children, Carolyn, 11, and Jacob, 9.

He said he's thought about moving and has had concerns about the refinery before, having heard "strange noises and loud bangs," as he did tonight.

"You could hear the roar from the processing plant," he said.

Lexi Belculfine: or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. First Published May 28, 2014 9:11 PM

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