Puerto Rico Gas Explosion

An office building in the Rio Piedras district of San Juan, Puerto Rico experienced a massive gas-fueled explosion that completely blew out the lower floors of this six-story building.  More than 30 people were killed in the explosion.  Another 80, both inside and outside the building, were injured.  Rimkus was retained by the local water utility, one of the potentially responsible parties, to determine the cause of the explosion and the source of the gas build-up that led to it. more...

A number of parties were listed as having potential responsibility for causing the explosion, including the local gas distribution utility and the sewer and water utility.  The parties were sued by the victims’ families.  Because of the extent of the damage, the litigants were in disagreement even as to the floor on which the explosion originated.  Some claimed that lighter-than-air sewer gas exploded on an upper floor, while others claimed that heavier than air propane exploded in the basement.  

Our examination determined that it indeed originated in the basement, used for merchandise storage by a first floor shoe store.  Our finding was supported by evidence including the imprint of a boot sole on the underside of a surviving concrete beam, indicating that the contents of the basement were blown upward by the explosion.  We also found that the local gas utility had experienced dozens of pipeline leaks in the area.  Given an extended period of drought that had been ongoing in San Juan area, we determined—and later testified in deposition—that shrinkage of the earth surrounding buried pipelines left an annular space around the pipe through which the leaking gas flowed, entered the basement, and reached explosive limits.  The parties ultimately settled prior to trial.