Site of W.Va. explosion ‘like a ghost town’

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The gas line explosion that hit Sissonville has scarred the landscape as well as the outlook of area residents.


“It looks completely different,” said Rhonda Payne, 46. “It’s kind of scary, really.”


Every time a truck rumbles past her Derricks Creek home, her heart races as she wonders whether another catastrophe may strike.


On the afternoon of Dec. 11, a 20-inch diameter natural gas transmission line ruptured, sending flames into the sky, scorching the earth, and ruining the surface of a section of Interstate 77. Some homes along W.Va. Route 21, also known as Sissonville Drive, were demolished and others damaged. Miraculously, there were no serious injuries.


A ghostly string of houses and mobile homes along the road now stand vacant with melted siding and no electricity.


When the explosion hit, Darell Sigmon was living in a rental home on a hill above an area where Sissonville Drive meets Derricks Creek. He was home at the time with his girlfriend, Lorie Estep, and their two Chihuahuas, Reese and Tinker.


Because the doors were too hot to touch, they escaped through a window. They ran up Derricks Creek away from the flames, with the little dogs in their arms. Someone in a truck gave them a ride to the safety of a relative’s house.


Sigmon was at the rental house weeks later, trying to salvage a few belongings from inside. The explosion melted the siding, damaged the foundation and sent huge rocks through the roof. It also damaged the Dodge truck he had borrowed from his father that was in the driveway.


“It looks like a ghost town,” he said, as he pointed to areas where two houses once stood.


He and Estep and the dogs are temporarily housed in a Red Roof Inn as they search for another place to rent.


“We’re looking for a place,” he said. “It’s hard because we have animals. Every time we find a place, they say no pets. It’s even harder in the middle of winter to find a place.”


Sigmon’s father, Emmett Sigmon, lives nearby on Teresa Lane, where his home sustained no damage.


When the explosion hit, it sounded like “20 jet planes taking off,” he said. It was more than an hour before Emmett Sigmon knew that his son was safe.


Rhonda Payne, who is Emmett’s daughter and Darell’s sister, lives a few houses away on Derricks Creek. The explosion is etched in her mind.


“We thought there was an earthquake,” she said. “The house started shaking really bad. When I ran outside, I saw flames coming up the road. I ran the bathtub full of water.”


She has custody of her 4-year-old grandson, Derius. She initially put him in the bathtub water, but then decided it would be better to take him and run along the road in the opposite direction of the flames.


The explosion melted some siding on her house, destroyed a deck, cracked the basement and hurled pieces of asphalt.


“I hate to be here,” she said. “I really, honestly thought we would die.”


Lawrence Deering, who lives 6 miles away along Derricks Creek, said he was driving about a mile away from the explosion when he saw tractor-trailers passing along Interstate 77 with flames shooting into the air.


The aftermath of missing houses and damaged property is a startling reminder of that day.


“It looks like a bomb went off,” he said.


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