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Jackson gas explosions lead to federal probe, Rep. Thompson looking for answers

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Jackson gas explosions lead to federal probe, Rep. Thompson looking for answers

Feb 21, 2024 | 4:08 pm ET
By Alex Rozier
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The National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation last week into two natural gas-fueled explosions in Jackson that happened last month, one of which killed an older woman.

On Wednesday, Rep. Bennie Thompson released a statement asking for an in-person briefing to examine the cause of the two events, which happened within four days and within a mile of each other.

“The safety and well-being of our communities are paramount, and it is imperative that we take these incidents seriously,” Thompson said. “The potential risks posed by natural gas cannot be understated, and we must ensure that all necessary measures are in place to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.”

The NTSB, an independent federal investigative agency, is still looking into the incidents. Both homes, which are in the southwest corner of the city below Interstate 20, were using gas connections from Atmos Energy Corp.

According to the NTSB’s statement, its staff was already en route to the first scene when it found out about the second explosion.

Jackson gas explosions lead to federal probe, Rep. Thompson looking for answers
Remnants of a residence located at 1146 Shalimar Drive, destroyed by a gas leak this past January in South Jackson, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

“On January 24, 2024, about 8:14 a.m., a home explosion and fire occurred at 185 Bristol Blvd. in Jackson, Mississippi, resulting in one fatality and one injury,” the statement reads. “While the National Transportation Safety Board investigative team was traveling to the scene, the NTSB learned of a second home explosion and fire.”

The second explosion happened just a few bocks south on Shalimar Drive around 4 a.m. on Jan. 27, and caused a fire that spread to a neighboring home. There were no injuries or deaths from the second event, the NTSB said.

The person who died in the first explosion, according to local news reports from WLBT and others, was 82-year-old Clara Barbour.

The NTSB, which has yet to release a cause of the incidents, said that Atmos discovered two leaks near the sites of the explosions over a month before they occurred. The utility provider determined that the leaks, which it found on Nov. 11 and Dec. 1, respectively, were “nonhazardous.”Atmos didn’t repair either leak prior to the explosions, the NTSB said.

Jackson gas explosions lead to federal probe, Rep. Thompson looking for answers
Remnants of a residence located at 185 Bristol Blvd., destroyed by a gas leak this past January in South Jackson, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Once the agency analyzes evidence and determines a cause, it will compile a final report and then make safety recommendations. The NTSB “tries to complete an investigation within 12 to 24 months,” according to its website. The agency, however, does not have any enforcement power.

“The NTSB is not a regulatory agency and therefore does not have any enforcement authority,” said Keith Holloway, a public affairs officer with the agency. “NTSB will issue safety recommendations during or as part of its final report at the end of an investigation to prevent a similar accident from reoccurring. NTSB recommendations are not geared towards recommending legal or enforcement action.”

Earlier this week, WLBT reported, Central District Public Service Commissioner De’Keither Stamps and nonprofit Mississippi Move went to homes near the incidents to give out free gas and carbon monoxide detectors.

Atmos, which serves gas to 274,000 customers in Mississippi, issued the following statement on Thursday:

“The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a preliminary report for the January incidents that occurred in Jackson, Miss. The report is available here. The NTSB report confirms that the investigation is ongoing and future activity will focus on causal factors. The safety of our customers, employees, and communities is Atmos Energy’s highest priority. We appreciate the NTSB’s investigative efforts and will continue to work with their team, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and the Mississippi Public Service Commission as the investigation continues.”