Do You Know What is Running Underneath Your Street?
In July, 2014, a series of explosions set off 50 ft. high fires, that ripped through the streets of Cianjen and Linga, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, that country’s second most highly populated city.
The fires occurred near midnight and resulted in some 27 deaths, with 286 wounded and two missing. The cause of the fire was a gas leak in the pipes under the ground of the roadsides according to the Wall Street Journal.
The blasts also left 23,600 homes without gas, 7,536 homes without power, and 8,000 homes without water in the immediate aftermath of the explosions, Bloomberg reported.
US gas pipe accidents
Similar accidents have occurred in the US. Since 2002, seven people died and 27 were wounded in New York State because of natural gas pipelines. In 2010, some 10 people died in San Bruno, California when a gas pipeline exploded.
In 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a gas pipeline that would travel from Linden, New Jersey to Manhattan. Folks in Staten Island and Jersey City expressed concern that the pipelines may pass through their areas to reach Manhattan, The New York World reported.
Traumatized in Taiwan
We were in Taiwan a few days after the gas explosions occurred. We were guests of the Tzu Chi Foundation, an international humanitarian group that is based in Taiwan and has branches in 47 countries. Its humanitarian aid has reached 80 countries.
Tzu Chi volunteers were among the first responders after the Kaohsiung blasts. We were told that the day after the explosions, people were afraid of any sound, including that of their own doorbells.
Tzu Chi volunteers who distributed goods in the area spoke of one family that wouldn’t open the door until it had been rung many times. When they opened the door, they told the volunteers that they were terrified by the doorbell, because of the loudness of the blasts the night before.
Another Kaohsiung resident told the volunteers that he was a war veteran, but he was still terrified by the blasts. As he spoke a loud thunderclap occurred, and the man clung to the arm of a volunteer tightly, from sheer fear.
Ironically, the family that was least traumatized by the explosions was a deaf couple, because they didn’t hear the explosions. However, they sensed something was going on. When they opened the door, they were surprised to see fire leaping out from under the curb of their street.
Sometimes, less is more. In the Philippines most homes use gas tanks which are safer. However, there have been explosions caused by natural gas in a Makati mall and a ritzy condominium building at Fort Bonifacio. There are also plans to structure natural gas pipelines all over the country.
Gas Explosion. Kaohsiung, Taiwan 08/01/2014 - Video Compilation
Cause of Kaohsiung Explosions
The explosions in Kaohsiung can actually be blamed, in a way, on economic progress. The gas lines were approved in 1990, at a time when there were few homes in the area.
Presently, Kaohsiung is a major petrochemical hub. It is also a port city with a lot of factories that from 1990 onwards, needed a lot of employees. As people moved into Kaohsiung for jobs, more houses were built, many of them on streets with gas lines running under them. The city’s current population is 2.8 million, according to Forbes.
Usually, gas pipelines keep a safe distance from residences, especially where there is a big population. Such is the situation in most of Taiwan. Kaohsiung’s city officials are now working on ways to resolve the issue of homes that stand above gas pipelines.
Is Your Home Safe?
Normally, gas explosions caused by pipelines are blamed on gas pipe leaks, issues of maintenance or a gas firm that may have accidentally overloaded the gas line. If you get gas in your home and don't use a gas tank, you might want to check a map of the gas pipelines in your area.
Fear not. If a new gas pipeline is coming to your area, you and your neighbors will have plenty of notice if you are in the US. This was the case in Southeast Brooklyn recently for a planned transmission line to Jamaica Bay. Such disclosure is required by law. After construction however, neither the city nor the province informs the homeowners on a regular basis about whether they live near a transmission line.
Property owners may also learn about a line's existence when undertaking excavation work: Under state law contractors must inform the state about any intent to perform heavy construction activities so utility companies can flag any gas lines underneath.
In the Philippines, any house or condominium unit that uses gas pipelines must have a gas meter installed, so that you can be sure that the level of gas going through your unit is safe. If it goes beyond safety levels, that's the time to go outside the house and alert the desk if you live in a condominium, the village association if you live in a gated village, or the gas company. Safety is of prime importance so monitor your gas levels regularly. If you think the monitor may be flawed, you can even add a second gas monitor to your house or condominium. The safest option, however, is to use a gas tank. If you live in a house with the windows open, you can lose all the gas in your tank without incurring any fire, because your house, even if it is just medium sized, will not keep the gas in a tight location and in this way will do you no harm.