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Two Dead in Natural Gas Blast

May 30, 1990

HEIDELBERG, Miss. (AP) _ Emergency workers burned off gases still leaking today from a runaway oil and gas well that exploded, killing two workers and injuring four others.

Most of about 200 people evacuated after the Tuesday afternoon series of explosions returned home Tuesday night. Those within a one-mile radius were told to wait until the well is capped, Jasper County civil defense director Joe Stringer said this morning. He said 60 to 65 people were kept away from their homes today.

Crews cleared away debris from the collapsed rig in hopes the capping could be completed by afternoon.

Officials used flares and flame throwers Tuesday to set fire to the escaping gas, said Jim Maher, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in Jackson.

The fire was a precaution against poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas, which occurs naturally in some fields. A spokesman for Wild Well Control Inc. of Spring, Texas, said Tuesday night that no traces of hydrogen sulfide were detected.

The well is owned by R & H Oil & Gas Inc., of Tickfaw, La. Officials there said the well was 20 years old and they were in the process of drilling to deeper levels for oil and gas.

Alex Thomas, who lives within a half-mile of the rig, said he heard four successive explosions about 2 p.m. Others said there was another blast later in the afternoon.

Roads were closed leading to the well, which is about 75 miles southeast of Jackson, as was a five-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 11.

Salt water, sand and mud were seeping out of the well along with the gases, said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dusty Perkins. Before a pilot light was set to keep the gases burning, the silt occasionally extinguished the flame and allowed gases to escape into the air.

Dwayne Kennedy, 24, died at the scene and Dudley Barnett, whose age was unavailable, died later Tuesday at the South Alabama Burn Center in Mobile, authorities said.

Well workers Donnie Bolivar, 31 and Michael McCormick, 32, were listed in critical condition at the burn center. Charles Windham, 40, was listed in serious but stable condition at the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center in Greenville. Another man was treated for minor injuries.

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