Residents evacuated after lightning hits gas plant

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HOUSTON, Pa. (AP) — Lightning hit a southwestern Pennsylvania gas refinery Wednesday evening, prompting 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 homes were evacuated as a safety precaution after a brief fire released propane gas into the air, Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober said.

But MarkWest Energy Partners said Thursday company officials inspecting the site found no evidence that a fire had occurred.

MarkWest said in a statement that the refinery will remain closed until an inspection is completed.

"The complex's safety control system worked as designed," the company said.

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.

The plant is located about 15 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

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