VALAKELIAI – A powerful gas pipeline explosion that prompted the evacuation of a village in northern Lithuania was most likely caused by a technical malfunction, the head of the country's natural gas transmission system said Saturday.
The blast Friday evening sent flames 50 meters (about 150 feet) into the sky. No casualties were reported but about 250 people were evacuated from the nearby village of Valakeliai as a precaution. The fire was extinguished by midnight and the residents returned to their homes on Saturday as repair work began on the damaged pipeline.
“One of the (possible causes) is that the explosion was a result of the defects in the welding seam of the pipeline, but the investigation will provide all answers within several days," said Nemunas Biknius, the head of AB Amber Grid, which operates Lithuania’s natural gas transmission system. “I don’t think it’s some kind of intentional activity; I think it’s an accident."
The pipeline carries gas from Lithuania’s Baltic port of Klaipeda to neighboring Latvia. An adjacent pipeline was not damaged and continued to supply gas to consumers in the area, AB Amber Grid said.
“The residents are safe now, there is no danger to their health," Povilas Balciunas, a municipal government official, told the AP. “Gas supply is also restored. The asphalt on the road has melted, but nobody suffered, and this is the main thing.”
Lithuania completely cut off Russian gas imports in April 2022 in response to the invasion of Ukraine. The Baltic country imports gas from multiple countries through the Klaipeda Liquid Natural Gas terminal built a decade ago. The terminal satisfies all Lithuania’s natural gas needs and allows deliveries to neighboring countries.
___ Associated Press writer Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed to this report.