Homes evacuated after leak at Washington County gas plant

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Dozens of Washington County residents were evacuated Wednesday night after lightning struck a natural gas refinery, causing an unknown substance to leak into the air and a plume to form over the plant.

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

"It appears there may have been some product leaking into the atmosphere," he said.

Neighbors and the facility reported seeing a plume over the refinery. Company officials did not identify the substance or substances that caused the plume.

All employees and contractors at the plant were accounted for and no injuries were reported, according to Mr. Bollinger and MarkWest spokesman Robert McHale, who was on the scene Wednesday night.

Residents evacuated in a two-mile area were allowed to return home shortly after 9:30 p.m. The plant will remain closed until an inspection has been completed, Mr. McHale said in a statement.

The county Department of Public Safety's hazardous materials team was on site monitoring air quality and "anything in the atmosphere," Mr. Bollinger said.

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

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

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 Wednesday night.

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


Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com. Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com.

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