Road cutter ‘collides’ with gas pipe – comes of worst

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Ruptures of underground gas pipes in Australia are fortunately rare and those with pyrotechnic consequences rarer still.

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However, one such occurred in Sydney recently. On May 30 in the North Shore suburb of Neutral Bay a road-cutting machine sliced into a buried gas line causing gas to escape and burst into flames.

The resulting conflagration was spectacular but fortunately the only fatality was the road cutter itself which was completely destroyed in the 90 minutes it took fire crews to extinguish the blaze.

The event was widely reported in the Australian media and even made the news as far away as China where official news agency Xinhua felt it necessary to note that the event took place in “the affluent suburban neighbourhood of Neutral Bay.”

The lengthy period it took to extinguish the blaze was reported to have been the result of workers from the gas company having difficulty finding the exact location of the leak to enable them to shut off the gas supply.

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One TV station, apparently without giving much thought to how the accident had occurred, reported it as a collision saying:  The driver [of the road cutter] is believed to have crashed into a gas main.”

Five houses were evacuated and traffic was seriously disrupted (the incident occurred about 7:00 am just as rush-hour traffic was building up).

One news site chose to illustrate the story with a couple of tweets, purportedly from local residents reporting the incident.

“#Sydney explosion / woken by massive noise have driven to bridge surrounds - all quiet - must have been thunder.” and “I swear it was within 100m of my building in Neutral Bay. The whole place shook!”

There is just one problem: both these tweets were dated 24 May, almost a week before the explosion took place!     

None of the reports we saw named the contractor responsible for this incident. Nor did any take the opportunity to remind their readers that it is essential for anyone — whether it's a contractor with a massive road cutter of simply someone putting in a fence post — to call Dial Before You Dig to make sure there is nothing beneath the surface in the location they are planning to excavate.

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