(MOS NEWS) A massive explosion along a gas pipeline outside the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala on Wednesday night injured 21 people and disrupted gas supplies to the North Caucasus republic and neighboring Azerbaijan, officials said Thursday.
Authorities blamed the blast on terrorism, and Gazprom said repairs would not be complete until Friday evening.
“An investigation has been launched into a suspected terrorist attack and the unlawful handling of explosives,” Abdul Musayev, a spokesman for Dagestan’s Interior Ministry, said by phone from Makhachkala. No suspects had been detained by Thursday afternoon.
The initial explosion was followed by a fire that injured four policemen and rescue workers as well as 17 passersby who approached the blaze, Musayev said. At least five people remained hospitalized Thursday afternoon.
A Gazprom spokesman said that Azerbaijan has enough gas storage capacity to compensate for the temporary shortfall and that some of its energy-generation can be switched to oil if needed.
The 1,200-kilometer pipeline starts in Mozdok, Ingushetia, traveling through Chechnya and Dagestan to Gazimagomed in Azerbaijan.
Dagestan has been rocked by a number of terrorist attacks recently. The affected pipeline appears particularly vulnerable, as the stretch in Dagestan travels above ground in about 100 places.
Wednesday’s explosion was the fourth of its kind this year alone. Sections of the gas pipeline were affected by blasts over the spring and summer.
An explosion in July led to the replacement of 460 meters of pipe — repairs that took more than a month to complete. Another explosion on Chechen territory disrupted the pipeline in August.
Witnesses on Wednesday heard two explosions, one shortly before 10 p.m. and another about 40 minutes later, Musayev said.
The second explosion was probably a result of the fire, he said.
The blasts occurred in a relatively deserted area outside Makhachkala. The fire was extinguished within two hours of the accident, Musayev said.
The Mozdok-Gazimagomed pipeline carries some 6.75 billion cubic meters of gas per year, roughly enough to match the annual consumption of Taiwan. Some of the gas is distributed in Dagestan, while the rest is exported to Azerbaijan.
A 50-meter-long stretch of the pipeline will be replaced by Friday evening, Gazprom said. The cost of the damage was not available.