Authorities Investigate Nelsonville, OH Sewer Explosion

A workman checks for debris in Nelsonville's storm water sewer system, damagaed by an explosion Saturday evening
A workman checks for debris in Nelsonville's storm water sewer system, damagaed by an explosion Saturday evening

Authorities in Nelsonville are still investigating a Saturday night explosion that forced the evacuation of 60 homes in the Athens County community. No one was injured. The driver of a Jeep skidded off a city street and gasoline spread through the city’s storm water drainage system.

City crews and private contractors were suctioning out debris Monday from a large hole on Fort Street one of several that were blown open when gasoline exploded inside the city’s hundred-year-old storm water system. The street department’s Delbert Keims said crews won’t be able to determine the extent of damage until clean-up is complete.

“We’ve got to go up on the other end somewhere and run a camera down the pipe and see if we have any other major damages anywhere else besides here,” Keims said.

The car accident occurred near the top of one of Nelsonville’s hills and fuel leaked from the filler cap according to the fire department’s Dan Pfeiffer.

“As it worked its way down the open ditch it entered into an enclosed system,” Pfeiffer said. “It found a hole somewhere and it found an ignition source somewhere; a pilot light, someone flipping an electrical switch that created a spark, someone threw a lit cigarette near a manhole; there’s no way for us to tell.”

That, according to resident Linda Westfall, was the end to a quiet evening in the neighborhood.

“We just heard this loud boom – I mean it was just the worst sonic boom you ever heard,” Westfall said. “And at that time we didn’t know what was causing it so that made it really scary.”

Two homes sustained moderate damage according to the fire department. Damage to Linda Westfall’s neighbor’s house was worse because the old storm drain ran directly beneath her neighbor’s basement.

“She has a gaping hole in the basement; the dryer is tilted out and it moved the washer around and there’s a pretty large hole and you can hear the water running through that storm sewer,” she said.

All evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes, though the most heavily damaged house still cannot be occupied. Damage to homes is estimated at $30,000. The Nelsonville city council will be asked to allocate $25,000 at its regular meeting Monday night to begin storm drain repairs.