A flame rises after an explosion at a gas pipeline near Pasvalys, 175 km (109 miles) north of Vilnius in northern Lithuania on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023. Officials say an explosion has occurred in a pipeline in central Lithuania carrying natural gas to the north of the country and neighboring Latvia but no supply disruptions or injuries were reported. Baltic media reported that Friday’s blast sent flames up to 50 meters (164 feet) into the sky and forced the protective evacuation of a nearby village. (AP Photo/Paulius Zidonis)

By Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — An explosion occurred Friday in a pipeline in central Lithuania carrying gas to the north of the country and neighboring Latvia but no injuries or significant supply disruptions were reported. Baltic media said the blast sent flames 50 meters (164 feet) into the sky and forced the protective evacuation of a nearby village.

The operator of Lithuania’s natural gas transmission system, AB Amber Grid, said the explosion took place away from residential buildings and “according to initial data” no people were injured. “The fire is being extinguished by (firefighters who) immediately arrived on the scene,” the company said in a statement.

Raimonds Cudars, the energy minister in neighboring Latvia, said the explosion in Lithuania so far has not caused problems with natural gas supplies in Latvia.

The Baltic News Service said Cudars had been informed that the reason for the explosion was a technical accident.

Amber Grid said the explosion appears to have occurred in one of two parallel pipelines, and the other was not damaged. It said the suspended gas supply to Latvia will be restored within hours. Repair work on the damaged pipeline is expected to start on Saturday.

The gas flow through the damaged pipeline in the Pasvalys area was immediately interrupted.

“We immediately started to investigate the circumstances of the incident and ensure gas supply to consumers,” Amber Grid CEO Nemunas Biknius said in a statement. He said the government had been informed.

Firefighters rushed to the scene and flames lit up the dark sky and were visible several kilometers (miles) away as the gas remaining in the pipe continued to burn Friday evening.

“It seemed as if planes were flying somewhere low -– a high-pressure gas pipeline exploded,” the Pasvalys district’s Mayor Gintautas Gegužinskas told LRT RADIO. “The flames are shooting up to a high altitude.”

Lithuanian broadcaster LRT said the village of Valakeliai, with about 250 inhabitants, was being evacuated as a precaution.

The village is located less that a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the pipeline. “There is no panic, there are (firefighters) standing by, making sure the buildings don’t catch fire. I think the situation will be under control,” Sigitas Šležas, a member of the Valakeliai village community, told BNS.

The pipeline carries gas from Lithuania’s Baltic port of Klaipeda to Latvia. Klaipeda is the only major seaport in Lithuania.

In September, undersea explosions in the Baltic ruptured the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which until Russia cut off supplies at the end of August was its main supply route to Germany. They also damaged the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which never entered service as Germany suspended its certification process shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Lithuania was the first European Union nation which completely cut off Russian gas imports in April 2022, weeks after the invasion. The Baltic state 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.

The Associated Press

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