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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Explosion Severs Northern Pipeline

Itar-TassEmergency personnel surveying the scene of the explosion at the pipeline outside St. Petersburg on Thursday.
ST. PETERSBURG -- A powerful explosion hit a gas pipeline north of St. Petersburg early Thursday morning, rattling buildings up to five kilometers away and setting off a giant blaze that lit up the dark skies.

No one was injured in the blast, though residents in the city's northern districts were astonished and shaken by the explosion.

Authorities ruled out terrorism, blaming instead aging steel pipes.

"The main reason for the accident ... was the aging of the metal, which did not support the pressure of the gas," Leningrad region Governor Valery Serdyukov said, Interfax reported.

The section of pipeline where the blast originated -- near the village of Lavriki -- was in such a state of disrepair that it was unable to withstand the gas pressure inside and split, the Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement.

The fire broke out shortly after midnight and engulfed two hectares of woodlands, the ministry said. More than 100 firefighters contained the blaze within an hour and fully extinguished the flames by 3 a.m., it said.

Serdyukov said the efficient response from emergency officials saved lives and prevented damage to buildings.

The pipeline, which runs from Belousovo to St. Petersburg, belongs to LenTransGaz, a regional arm of state-owned giant Gazprom.

"All customers are collecting gas in full volumes," LenTransGaz said in a statement. "All contractual export obligations are being met."

Russian officials also told Interfax that gas supplies were not affected.

But the Finnish gas company Gasum said the blast and subsequent fire had interrupted export deliveries of natural gas for about six hours.

"Gazprom informed Gasum immediately after the explosion happened," Gasum said in a statement.

Leningrad region police said they would wait for the results of a preliminary investigation before deciding whether to open a criminal case.

"If examinations show that the accident happened because of someone's negligence, for reasons linked to an official, then criminal proceedings will begin," an unidentified police official told Interfax.

Vladimir Kudryavtsev, head of the Leningrad region's branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said such blasts were not uncommon.

"Such explosions happen three or four times a year, so nothing out of the ordinary really happened," Kudryavtsev said, Fontanka.ru reported. "It's just that this one happened not too far from the city and it was visible."

St. Petersburg resident Dmitry Dobrovolsky told Channel One television that he climbed onto the roof of his apartment building to watch the blaze on the horizon after hearing -- and feeling -- the explosion.

"It felt like thunder followed by cannon fire," Dobrovolsky said. "Bam-bam. Then it was as if a cargo train passed by."

Pipelines are intentionally built away from populated areas, Kudryavtsev told the web site.

"That way in case of an emergency situation, there is no destruction or casualties," he said.

David Nowak contributed to this report from Moscow.