Briefs 1126


Utility worker punctured pipe in Mass. explosion

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A utility worker responding to reports of a natural gas leak in one of New England’s largest cities punctured a pipe and an unknown spark ignited a massive explosion that injured 18 people and damaged 42 buildings, the state fire marshal announced Sunday.

Friday night’s natural gas blast in Springfield’s entertainment district was caused by “human error,” State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said at a news conference. He didn’t name the Columbia Gas Go. worker who pierced the high-pressure pipe.

The worker was trying to locate the source of the leak with a metal probe that tests natural gas levels when the probe damaged the underground pipe, Coan said. A flood of gas then built up in a building that housed a strip club, and a spark touched off the blast, officials said.

Columbia Gas planned a news conference for later Sunday afternoon. A message left for a company spokeswoman wasn’t immediately returned. Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of public company NiSource Inc., announced earlier Sunday that it planned to open a claims center for residents and businesses affected by the explosion at City Hall on Monday.

Preliminary reports showed the blast damaged 42 buildings housing 115 residential units. Three buildings were immediately condemned, and 24 others require additional inspections by structural engineers to determine whether they are safe. The building that housed the Scores Gentleman’s Club was completely destroyed.

Gaza cease-fire raises hopes for reconstruction

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Mohammed Falah Azzam has been through this before.

His mother’s home was bombed in the 2008-09 Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which left hundreds dead and thousands of homes destroyed. In renewed fighting last week, an entire block of buildings housing his extended family was badly damaged in an airstrike that Israel said was aimed at a militant.

While none of his relatives was hurt, the 61-year-old retired schoolteacher once again has to worry about providing shelter for his family. Some relatives are sleeping in an empty shop, squeezed in with other family members. Others are spending their nights in rooms covered in plastic wrap to shield them from the winter rain because all the windows were blown out.

“This is going to cost thousands,” Azzam said. “The longer I wait, the more damage will happen,” he added, pointing to a heavily damaged building sitting atop tilting concrete columns.

Azzam finds himself caught again in a pile of paperwork to seek assistance, trying to secure hard-to-get construction materials. This time, he hopes the process will be smoother, thanks to both Israel’s pledges to ease its longstanding border blockade and the newfound political clout of Gaza’s Hamas rulers in the region.

Will NYC act to block future surges?

Think Sandy was just a 100-year storm that devastated New York City? Imagine one just as bad, or worse, every three years.

Prominent planners and builders say now is the time to think big to shield the city’s core: a 5-mile barrier blocking the entryway to New York Harbor, an archipelago of man-made islets guarding the tip of Manhattan, or something like CDM Smith engineer Larry Murphy’s 1,700-foot barrier — complete with locks for passing boats and a walkway for pedestrians — at the mouth of the Arthur Kill waterway between the borough of Staten Island and New Jersey.

Act now, before the next deluge, and they say it could even save money in the long run.

These strategies aren’t just pipe dreams. Not only do these technologies already exist, some of the concepts have been around for decades and have been deployed successfully in other countries and U.S. cities.

By wire sources