Deadly blast at Austrian pipeline hub

A column of fire is seen after an explosion ripped through Austria's main gas pipeline hub in Baumgarten. Photo: Reuters
A column of fire is seen after an explosion ripped through Austria's main gas pipeline hub in Baumgarten. Photo: Reuters

An explosion and fire that ripped through Austria's main gas pipeline hub on Tuesday (local time) killed one person and injured 21 others, prompting Italy to declare a state of emergency as flows from the strategic site were cut off.

The Baumgarten site in eastern Austria, near Slovakia, is a major regional transfer node, taking natural gas from as far away as Russia and pumping it towards neighbours including Germany and Italy, its biggest recipient.

News of the blast sent gas prices in Europe soaring on fears it would restrict supply as winter sets in.

Gas Connect Austria, which operates the site, said the hub had been shut down but the blaze had been extinguished. The cause appeared to be a technical fault, it said.

Emergency crews are seen attending to a fire after reports of a gas explosion in Baumgarten. Photo: Reuters
Emergency crews are seen attending to a fire after reports of a gas explosion in Baumgarten. Photo: Reuters

"An explosion occurred this morning before 9am on the grounds of the Baumgarten Natural Gas Station," the company said. "The explosion caused a serious fire that has been contained to several small fires."

Footage on social and other media showed a column of fire in the distance rising from a flat landscape. A wide area around the site was cordoned off and 250 firefighters were at the scene.

The emergency services said one person was killed and 21 injured, one seriously. Among the slightly wounded were "employees of contractors from six other countries" apart from Austria, the operator said, without elaborating.

Gas Connect Austria said its deliveries to Austria's southern and southeastern borders were affected by the blast until further notice. Those pipelines supply Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia but also Baumgarten's biggest recipient, Italy.

That dependence on its gas led Italy to declare a state of emergency on Tuesday as its industry minister said the country had a "serious" energy supply problem.

A state of emergency would give Rome the right to use a series of extraordinary measures such as allowing coal and oil power plants to fire at full blast.

The Italian wholesale day-ahead price surged 215% to 75 euros per megawatt-hour, its highest recorded level.

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