HOUSTON — Lightning hit a southwestern Pennsylvania gas refinery Wednesday evening, starting a small fire that led to the evacuation of homes within two miles of the plant.
The Markwest Energy Partners facility in Chartiers Township was struck about 6 p.m. Wednesday. Witnesses and Washington County 911 officials said a smell of natural gas and a vapor cloud were reported, which prompted officials to tell dozens of residents to leave. No injuries were reported at the plant or surrounding areas, and residents returned to their homes at about 9:30 p.m.
“I saw it hit. Then there was this big, loud, hissing noise,” resident Linda Cumer told the Observer-Reporter. “Then something started spewing into the air out around the tanks on the hill.”
The plant is located about 15 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
MarkWest Energy Partners spokesman Robert McHale said in a statement that the refinery will remain closed until an inspection is completed.
Shawn Sethman, who lives directly across from the plant, said he and other residents were unhappy with the evacuation process. Sethman said he’s requested an evacuation plan from MarkWest in the past and his request was denied for security reasons.
“I live within hundreds of feet, and I don’t know how we are to evacuate,” Sethman told the Observer-Reporter.