Massive Natural Gas Explosion "Flips" a House

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Last week there was a massive natural gas explosion in Wisconsin that the reporters said actually "flipped" the house. The house was completely destoroyed, resident killed, and several neighboring houses were destroyed. Debris was found up to 13 blocks away. The fire dept. said it's the worst they have ever seen.
I have friends who live near the place where this explosion occurred, who told me about it, so I looked up the media coverage on the web. Looking at the coverage and videos, is amazing.
I am posting this because I dont understand what they are saying (in the article below).
I'm referring to this part. "(Meter readings show a larger than usual amount of gas flowing through Gaulke's pipes between May 11 and June 2. In a slow leak, gas would have migrated to other parts of the house, including the attic. And when it ignited, it would have blown off the roof and walls but left the floor intact.)"
The explosion was June 3. If the meter readings were high during those approx. 3 weeks, where would it have gone? The reports said that there was no leak underground before the meter. Obviously if the meter showed the high usage, the leak was AFTER the meter. The meters are right on the outside of the house and the pipes enter the basement at that place.
If there was gas leaking into the basement, someone would have noticed it after 3 weeks. (as stated in the article). Since no one noticed it, it was obviously not entering the house before the explosion. This makes me question where the gas was going....... I sure the heck cant understand this. And you'd think that the fire investigators surely could figure it out. I have been trying to rationalize this, and it makes no sense.....
Anyone have any ideas?
---------------- The article below -----------------
From: http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?ida6721
Exact source of Tosa leak elusive Fire chief says evidence points to rapid buildup of gas in basement
June 7, 2007
Wauwatosa - Investigators believe a sudden buildup of natural gas in the basement of a home caused the deadly explosion that killed an elderly woman and destroyed three houses in Wauwatosa last week.
But they might never be able to pinpoint the exact source of the leak, Wauwatosa Fire Chief Dean Redman said Thursday.
According to Redman, investigators found 10 places inside the home where gas piping had split apart. But it could not be determined, he said, whether those fractures were pre-existing or caused by the blast.
Redman said the home's insurer might do additional tests in an effort to determine that.
"But we may never know the exact point at which the gas escaped into the house," he said.
Lorraine Gaulke, 80, died June 2 when the explosion ripped apart her home in the 10900 block of W. Wisconsin Ave. shortly after 11 a.m. At least two adjacent homes also were destroyed, and as many as 20 others were damaged in the blast that sent debris flying as far as 13 blocks away.
A medical examiner's report says Gaulke died of "mechanical asphyxia," meaning she could not breathe because of the weight of debris on her.
The Wauwatosa Fire Department and state fire marshal are completing their reports. But Redman said all evidence - from meter readings to the way Gaulke's house came down - points to a sudden surge of gas pooling in the basement and being ignited by a pilot light or some other source there.
Among the evidence, according to Redman:
*Gaulke had only three gas appliances - a furnace, dryer and water heater - all in the basement.
*Meter readings show a larger than usual amount of gas flowing through Gaulke's pipes between May 11 and June 2. In a slow leak, gas would have migrated to other parts of the house, including the attic. And when it ignited, it would have blown off the roof and walls but left the floor intact.
*The explosion pushed the house off its foundation and flipped the first floor.
Both Redman and We Energies said there was no evidence to suggest a leak outside the home.
Utility spokesman Barry McNulty said the company found no leaks in its pipes or equipment around the home and no problems in a door-to-door canvass of homes in the area after the blast.
McNulty said the gas meter at Gaulke's home was replaced in March. But he and Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Hevey, who is heading the investigation, said there is no evidence to suggest that was a factor in the explosion.
We Energies received no reports of a smell indicating a gas leak from the home over the last month, and two reports of such an odor in the area since May 1 were unrelated, he said.
As standard procedure, McNulty said, We Energies is mandated by the state Public Service Commission to recheck the area to ensure that the force of the blast did not compromise any equipment.
"And we'll be doing that as soon as the fire marshal and fire chief give us the high sign," McNulty said.
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snipped-for-privacy@noemail.com writes:

I don't think that's what happened. Probably the last meter reading was done on May 11. The reading on June 2 indicated that *sometime during that period* there was a high flow of gas, because the June 2 reading is higher than you'd expect from previous normal consumption. But the gas flow might have been perfectly normal until 15 minutes before the explosion, at which time something failed and started leaking fast.
Now, reading the statement as written, you'd think that gas flow was high for the whole 3 weeks, but unless the gas meter is some sort of fancy electronic type that keeps a record of gas flow vs. time, there's no possible way to tell the difference between a slightly high flow for 3 weeks and a normal flow for 3 weeks followed by a large leak.
I'd chalk this up to sloppy writing by the author.
    Dave
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Dave Martindale wrote:

I'd agree w/ the assessment and add the writer probably had no clue what was writing about...
I'd be _very_ surprised if an _expert_ forensic examination couldn't pinpoint the actual explosion ignition point and pre- as opposed to post-explosion leaks, but not too surprised if the resources required weren't assigned to the task.
If I were a gas customer in the area, however, I'd surely be considering doing some serious checking on conditions of my service lines...
--
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On Jun 10, 4:07 pm, snipped-for-privacy@cs.ubc.ca (Dave Martindale) wrote:

The 3 week period is probably the period since the last recorded reading of the meter. The gas leak probably started leaking vast amounts right before the explosion. If natural gas it filled the basement from the basement "ceiling" down to the floor where it was most likely ignited by the water heater pilot.
Also, if the meter were not immediately destroyed it would have recorded even more gas pouring thru it as gas continued to escape from the damaged house piping system.
boom.....
About 15 years a go a house here was being slowly torn down, somehow workers with heavy equipment busted the gas line...inside the house.....couple hours after workmen left the house exploded. I was 3 houses down sitting on the bedroom floor gong thru some personal papers. While the explosion didnt "lift me off the floor" it did shake the house ...lol. Our home suffered no damage....only a church next to the house that exploded suffered any damage.
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On Sun, 10 Jun 2007 20:07:58 +0000 (UTC), snipped-for-privacy@cs.ubc.ca (Dave Martindale) wrote:

OK, this makes much more sense. I was looking at what was written as meaning the high gas usage was occurring from May 11 to June 2. I dont think there are meters that detect record daily usage for gas. For electric there are meters like this. I have one. No one reads the meter, it sends a signal back to the electric company that tells them just how much I am using, and when there was a short power outage and I called, they looked at (whatever they use to read it), and knew which homes were without power.
The reporter should have said "Meter readings taken on June 2, show there was a larger than usual amount of gas flowing through Gaulke's pipes since the last reading on May 11".
What gets me, is that there is no device to kill the gas flow when a leak occurs. They highly regulate these 20lb propane tanks with these new valves they started using some years ago. Those valves are supposed to stop the flow where the gas flow exceeds a normal amount, (such as opening the valve with nothing connected). You'd think that natural gas supplies would have something similar at the meter, whereas a busted pipe would cause the system to shut down. There are so many regulations on everything else these days, but natural gas seems to have been passed by. You'd also think they could design a sensor such as a smoke detector that would beep when gas is detected.
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snipped-for-privacy@noemail.com wrote: ...

Possible and probably is available for a price although I've not checked for what is residentially sized. The problem for residential household use as I see it as opposed to the tank is the extremely wide range of "normal" for a given household. Everything from a single pilot light to one or more large furnace units plus water heater plus gas logs in the fireplace(s) plus double oven(s) plus... is all within an allowable usage range. A leak in a small delivery line that could cause an explosion such as the one in this news story could be a very small fraction of any of those so the frequency of events curtailed would probably be a minute fraction at best...

Think? :)
http://www.rewci.com/nagasdewibab.html
Something of the sort is undoubtedly the best bet. It's output then, _could_ be used in an automated isolation system. That would probably be pretty effective.
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Sounds like a good idea, but the reference to the smell of rotten eggs in the additive doesn't inspire confidence in me. I don't think it smells like rotten eggs. Is it supposed to?
Also " all to real" instead of " all too real"
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mm wrote:

I didn't make any judgment (good or bad) on the referenced detector -- only posted link for other respondent that there is such a thing as he/she didn't seem to think even existed. Whether this particular one is/isn't any good I don't know which is what I presume your comment refers to that you thought there was something not quite up to par on their website. Can't say, didn't check...
Not particularly, like H2S to me in the normally low concentrations, either. It's much more pungent in itself, of course.

??? Don't ken this...what you talking about?
--
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Heh. Methyl Mercaptan is the chemical they use. It's in the same chemical _family_ ("Mercaptans") as the primary ingredient in "rotten egg" smell (which is H2S IIRC) and that of eau-de-skunk. They are all very pungent, smell _similar_, but not exactly the same.
Also, these days few people encounter "true" rotten egg smells, because eggs are handled rather better than they used to be in the days before refrigeration and public health inspections...
--
Chris Lewis,

Age and Treachery will Triumph over Youth and Skill
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On Wed, 13 Jun 2007 14:59:08 -0000, snipped-for-privacy@nortelnetworks.com (Chris Lewis) wrote:

Before I answer, does anyone know what the two parts of the white are called, or what the difference is, or anything about that?
I'm not talking about the yolk but the two parts of the white.

This is very interesting, because usually I find, and I even tell people, that I have a very poor sense of smell.
But definitely, they don't seem the same to me. I've definitely smelled H2S

And I'm pretty sure I've smelled true rotten eggs, since I'm not one of those natty guys who takes care that his eggs don't rot.
In fact, eggs will keep in the refrigerator for easily 3, probalby 6 months, probably longer some times, without problems. And even then they usually don't rot in the fridge, but just dry out. So I must have left them out of the fridge some time.
Even broken eggs can usually be used. Take all the other eggs out of the egg carton and pour the egg into the pan. If the outer membrane is not broken, the eggs will keep at least a day or two even if the shell is broken.
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They're similar, but not identical.

...

Eggs can be stored for _years_ at 4C and the proper humidity level.
I think the main stench is when the yolks are broken and have a chance to, er, percolate for a while. More readily available sulphur.
--
Chris Lewis,

Age and Treachery will Triumph over Youth and Skill
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On Mon, 11 Jun 2007 13:08:51 -0500, snipped-for-privacy@noemail.com wrote:

I think it also doesn't send daily readings. Probably they ping it once a month (and when they want to) and then it sends back a reading,(not of how much you are using but how much you've used.)

It's natural gas. They want it to be all-natural.
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On Sun, 10 Jun 2007 22:37:45 -0000, Big_Jake

Did you hear or feel the explosion? They said in the news that many people did.

They said she had an electric range, only water heater, furnace and dryer, all in the basement. I noticed from the map they showed on one article that there are railroad tracks nearby. I wonder if the vibration from the trains could have caused a pipe to weaken and eventually break. Otherwise, I'd place my bet on the dryer. Dryers vibrate which can weaken the pipes, whereas a furnace or water heater are pretty much stable.

I have to say that the guy that did this must be really stupid. When a gas pipe is opened, one can hear it, and smell it immediately.
Here is another area where gas should be better regulated. Most of us know which way to turn a gas valve to the ON or OFF position, but many people dont. The valves should clearly say ON and OFF on them.

I'll agree. Many of them dont really understand what they are writing about. At least not the technical aspets of it. Of course I guess they cant be experts in everything.

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snipped-for-privacy@noemail.com wrote:

...
I don't think the average reporter (or reporterette) is an expert in anything these days, what more something with any technicality at all in it. Few can even manage to get subject and verb to agree, what more provide factual accounts of any substance... :(
imo, ymmv, $0.02, etc., etc., ...
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snipped-for-privacy@noemail.com wrote: ...

Large leak/short time --> small leak/long time can yield same total gas accumulation. Elderly lady, poor sense of smell and/or not often in the basement isn't at all difficult for me to believe...

...
I'd place odds far higher on simply long-term corrosion in either the distribution line(s) or at a connection. Mechanical causation of the type you describe would be way down on the list in my guesstimation. Gas carries with it water and other impurities which are corrosion-inducing and iirc, this was a house w/ some age on it... Only hypothesis, of course, and only the forensics will tell, but that would be my highest-likelihood guess.
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No, I didn't. I'm not positive that I was home when it happened.

While I agree with your logic, I have never seen a dryer here that wasn't hooked up with a flex line.

My guess is that he turned the valve, and left the area immediately. The gas flow is pretty quiet, and the sound of a radio would be enough to mask it. The other possibility is that the gas valve was 5'+ away from the open end of the pipe.

Can't argue with that.

No, but we can expect them to at least try to get it right.

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In the report it says debris was found 13 blocks away. THIS WAS NOT A GAS EXPLOSION only. Gas has a "soft" explosion, dynamite and other explosives have hard explosions. When the forensic experts are finished determining what happened I am certain they will find that the actual explosion was generated by a high explosive, and the gas was just involved. This had to be set.
In my city over about 10 years there have been 3 explosions that leaking gas was blamed. In every case, it was gas, but it was purposely set by someone by opening a pipe or connection. In all the gas explosions several houses on all sides were damaged even destroyed but the damage did not extend more than part of a block. Gas only explodes within a narrow range of gas to air ratio, too little gas and it won't blow, too much gas and it cannot blow, so more gas does not make a bigger bang.
40 years working with a major gas utility taught me a lot about gas.

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Eigenvector wrote:

...
I wouldn't put too much faith in the newspaper reports...the "debris" could, after all, be cellulose insulation carried by the wind, or it may have had nothing at all to do w/ the explosion.
I wouldn't put it past gas to have done the damage, either. Have seen the results of a couple of explosions at nearby collection stations and a compressor station -- that one, the shock wave from right at 10 miles away knocked snow off the roof of the house...nothing but natural gas, no "hard" explosives at all involved...
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A lot of issues might be resolved here by reading a more factual account of the accident. http://www.todaystmj4.com/news/local/7805427.html
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