Gas pipeline explodes in Lithuania on day marking independence struggle from USSR

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By Euronews  with AFP/AP
Flames rose 50 metres into the sky.
Flames rose 50 metres into the sky.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

A gas pipeline has exploded in Lithuania, according to officials, as the country marks a historic day in its struggle for independence from the USSR. 

LRT, Lithuania's public broadcaster, reported that there were no injuries from the blast in the centre of the country, but that flames shot up 50 metres high. 

Some 250 people from a nearby village were being evacuated from the village of Pasvalio Vienkiemiai, after the explosion at around 17:00 local time in the District of Pasvalys. Authorities said this was a precautionary measure.

Today, Lithuania marks the Day of Freedom Defenders to honour those who were killed by Soviet troops on 13 January 1991 in the capital Vilnius, as the country broke away from the USSR. 

Fourteen people died and hundreds were injured defending the TV tower, as Russian troops tried to topple the new Lithuanian government that had declared independence the year before in 1990.  

The blast occurred on a main Amber Grid gas pipeline.

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

"According to the initial assessment, we do not see any malign cause, but the investigation will cover all possible options," he told a new conference. 

Pasvalio rajone prie Valakėlių sprogo aukšto slėgio dujotiekis. Tai greta kelio Pasvalys - Šiauliai. Dirba specialiosios tarnybos.

Posted by Gintautas Geguzinskas on Friday, January 13, 2023

Gas supplies through the damaged pipeline, which serves northern Lithuania and Baltic neighbour Lativa, in the area were immediately halted.

Further disruptions to energy supplies are expected, though Latvia said it had not been affected so far.

“There were unexpected sounds, it seemed as if planes were flying somewhere low – a high-pressure gas pipeline exploded on the side of Valakėliai, on the Pasvalys-Šiauliai road, a couple of kilometres from Pasvalys," said District Mayor Gintautas Gegužinskas. 

"The flames are shooting up to a high altitude," he added. 

According to the Baltic News Service, the pipeline carries natural gas from Klaipeda in eastern Lithuania to Latvia. Klaipeda sits on the Baltic Sea and is the only major seaport in Lithuania.

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

Cudars had been informed that the reason for the explosion was a technical accident.

Lithuania, like war-torn Ukraine, borders Russia. It is situated on the Baltic Sea where the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream gas pipelines were destroyed by explosions last year.

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