A methane gas explosion that blew manhole covers into the air and set two cars on fire in the middle of New Orleans’ French Quarter last month has left residents and workers unnerved and wondering if or when it will happen again.
New Orleanians say they have received little explanation from the city about the Dec. 16 gas explosion other than it was caused by a buildup of methane gas inside an electrical vault that generated an electrical arc and ignited the explosion, but some city officials have cast doubt on that explanation.
The New Orleans Fire Department says a buildup of sewage and methane gas in a vault containing electrical equipment triggered the blast. That accumulation of sewage inside the vault generated the methane gas that exploded when the electrical arc occurred. How the sewage got into the vault remains a mystery.
The blast occurred in the 500 block of Dauphine Street shortly after 5 in the morning. The blast launched four heavy steel manhole covers into the air and turned a car parked on the street into an inferno. Another parked vehicle near it was also damaged in the fire.
Fortunately, because of the early hour, the street was quiet and there were no injuries. But people in the area said it would have been a different story had the gas explosion occurred during a more active time of the day.
“If this had been during a time of pedestrian activity, or any kind of activity, we could have seen some serious injuries, and that’s a major concern,” Erin Holmes, executive director of Vieux Carré Property Owners, Residents & Associates, told the Times-Picayune. She said the idea of such a blast occurring when the street was active with pedestrians and traffic is “deeply troubling.”
The Times-Picayune said Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration did not respond to requests for comment about the gas explosion, which remains under investigation.
Although Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said that a buildup of sewage and methane led to the explosion, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board released a statement Jan. 3 that adds some confusion to that claim.
“To date, our investigations have shown no evidence of a sewer leak causing the explosion,” Sewerage and Water Board spokesperson Courtney Barnes said, according to WVUE New Orleans.
Entergy, the electrical provider for the area, continues to work on repairs in the affected area. The company says that its investigation of the explosion remains active.
While the work continues beneath the French Quarter, many await word on what steps are being taken to prevent more explosions in the future.
According to the Times-Picayune, “the French Quarter and Lakeview are unique in New Orleans in that their electrical utilities are underground, putting them in proximity with the city’s notoriously dilapidated sewerage infrastructure.”
As the repair work continues, residents can only hope that whatever caused the blast won’t happen again. That day will likely come only when the city determines the exact cause of the explosion and takes measures to prevent future occurrences.