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As Home Explosions Investigation Continues, Jackson Volunteers Provide Gas Detectors

Headshot of Mac Epps seen wearing a black Tougaloo cap and black glasses
Mississippi MOVE Director Mac Epps said on Feb. 21, 2024, that he’s been in contact with the family of 82-year-old Clara Barbour, a Jacksonian woman who died when her home on Bristol Boulevard exploded on Jan. 24, 2024. Epps’ organization has been helping to provide residents with gas-leak detectors while federal investigators examine the cause of the explosions at Barbour’s home and another house on Jan. 27, 2024. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

JACKSON, Miss.—When Chris Way heard that South Jackson communities needed help delivering and installing natural gas leak-detecting devices, the 25-year-old knew he wanted to help. The effort came in the weeks after two South Jackson homes exploded, prompting a federal investigation to examine whether gas leaks or infrastructure failures may have been the cause.

“Me and my mom actually went to Lowe’s and bought a few of them at first. Then, people donated them so we could give them out to more people,” he said. Way grew up in South Jackson in a neighborhood near Thomas Cardozo Middle School.

For the past couple of years, he’s volunteered with the organization Mississippi MOVE, helping out wherever needed.

He filled up his gas tank on Monday and again Wednesday while on a mission to deliver as many of the devices as were available. Way said that as donations come in, he will continue to assist with delivering the devices to residents.

The primary thing on his mind, Way said, has been relieving some of the stress residents have felt after a home explosion on Bristol Boulevard killed 82-year-old Clara Barbour on Jan. 24, devastating the community. Barbour’s husband, Rev. Johnny Barbour, was injured but survived.

A man and a woman stand outside of a brick building, the woman is holding a box filled with items
Mississippi MOVE volunteer Chris Way, left, is pictured delivering a gas-leak-detection device to South Jackson resident Joyce McCants. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

Three days later, less than a mile away on Shalimar Drive, another home exploded. The second home was unoccupied at the time of the explosion, WLBT reported on Jan. 27.

Within days, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Jackson and began trying to determine what may have caused the explosions. Although the NTSB is commonly known for in-depth inquiries and safety recommendations after airline and rail accidents, natural-gas pipeline safety also falls under its jurisdiction.

‘The Investigation Is Ongoing’

The National Transportation Safety Board has yet to say definitively what sparked both explosions, but on Tuesday, Feb. 20, the agency released a short preliminary report with information its investigators gathered while coordinating with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, The Mississippi Public Service Commission and Atmos Energy.

The early report details only initial facts that investigators compiled within the first 30 days but does not draw conclusions on the cause of the explosions, nor does it assign blame.

NTSB spokesperson Keith Holloway told the Mississippi Free Press on Feb. 15 that the agency decided to investigate both incidents concurrently because of the close proximity of both homes, because both explosions happened within days of each other and because Atmos Energy serviced natural gas to both homes.

The report does state that back in November and December of 2023, Atmos Energy identified gas leaks in their distribution systems near both homes.

“Before these explosions, Atmos identified and classified leaks on their distribution system near locations 1 (185 Bristol Boulevard) and 2 (1146 Shalimar Drive). The leak nearest to location 1 was discovered on November 11, 2023, and classified as a grade-2 leak, meaning that it was nonhazardous but would require repair in the future,” the agency’s initial report states.

“The leak nearest to location 2 was discovered on December 1, 2023, and was classified as a grade-3 leak and therefore nonhazardous. Neither leak was repaired before the explosions,” it continues.

The report echoes statements Atmos Energy Vice President of Public Affairs Bobby Morgan made earlier this month.

Map and photographs of explosion locations
The National Transportation Safety Board released its initial report on the home explosions that occurred within a mile of each other in South Jackson on Jan. 24, 2024, and Jan. 27, 2024. NTSB spokesperson Keith Holloway said the agency’s full investigation could take years and they do not yet know if a connection exists between the two explosions. Graphic courtesy of Google Earth, the Mississippi Public Service Commission [Location 1 inset], and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration [Location 2 inset].
At a community meeting at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Jackson on Feb. 7, Morgan said that although Atmos couldn’t speak to the cause of the Jan. 24 and Jan. 27 explosions. “We monitored our system and made the decision to accelerate leak repairs and to accelerate infrastructure replacement programs.”

“This is work that had already been planned,” Morgan continued. “Back in November and December, we surveyed the area. If we found something serious we fixed it immediately. Those non-serious issues were graded and scheduled for repair.”

Atmos has yet to explain why it initially deemed the gas leaks its technicians discovered near the locations of both explosions in November and December 2023 as “non-hazardous.” However, the company’s website says that “leaks identified on the Atmos Energy transmission and distribution systems are investigated and graded in accordance with our repair procedures, which meet or exceed the requirements of the state or federal regulation.”

Holloway said the NTSB’s investigation is ongoing and it could take years before the agency’s final, most-detailed report is released, identifying whether the two incidents were connected, the ignition source that sparked the explosions, which parties may have been involved and whether any safety measures were missed, and how a similar incident can be avoided.

“It could be linked. We don’t know. It could be systemic. We don’t know,” he said. “So we have to look at everything in order to determine what caused it and how to prevent it from happening again.”

Two men in work gear look into a trench dug by a yellow digging device
Crews from several natural gas pipeline companies have been stationed in South Jackson since the Jan. 24, 2024, home explosion and fire that killed 82-year-old Clara Barbour and injured her husband. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

As the NTSB enters the long-term portion of its investigation, investigators will independently analyze all compiled information and their final report should detail “ultimately what happened, why it happened and how to prevent it from happening again,” Holloway said.

“Future investigative activity will focus on Atmos’ leak assessment methods, evaluation of hazards associated with identified leaks, response to odor complaints, repair criteria, integrity management, and pipeline safety management systems, as well as causal factors,” the NTSB’s Feb. 20 report states.

However, the agency does not find fault or enforce fines or penalties, Holloway said.

“NTSB is not a regulatory agency and does not find fault as a cause in its investigations. NTSB can make safety recommendations but does not have any regulatory authority to enforce,” Holloway said.

‘For Your Whole House To Explode, That’s A Scary Thing’

Atmos offered more than 100 customers in the area the opportunity to stay in hotels while the company surveyed for leaks, the company’s Vice President of Public Affairs Bobby Morgan said on Feb. 7. As of that day, all but four customers were back in their homes, he said at the time.

But Mississippi MOVE Director Mac Epps said in an interview on Feb. 21 that South Jackson residents are still concerned and anxious about the safety of their natural-gas pipelines.

“Natural gas is a scary thing because you don’t know what could cause it to explode. You can’t see it,” Epps said. “I know people that have survived being shot, but for your whole house to explode, that’s a scary thing.”

A home in rubble with yellow caution tape around the scene. A white truck is parked in front.
This home on Shalimar Drive in South Jackson was vacant when it exploded on Jan. 27, 2024. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

Atmos called on pipeline companies from different states to assist with surveying the area following the explosions, but some residents feel the company has not been upfront enough about the work they’re doing now.

Atmos has several infrastructure projects across their Mississippi service area that are currently listed as “in progress.” You can visit Atmos’ website to see a snapshot of their completed and ongoing projects.

Epps said much of his work now is focused on educating residents about the need for gas leak detectors. “I never knew. We never knew that a carbon monoxide detector (alone) did not detect natural gas,” Epps said. “We never knew that we needed it because no one ever talked about it.”

Mississippi MOVE will continue to supply and install gas leak detectors to residents on a first-come, first-serve basis, Epps said. But the price of the devices can range anywhere from $18 to upward of $200, steep prices for a non-profit organization with limited resources.

“We don’t mind helping and getting this information out. But these things are expensive,” Epps said on Wednesday. “Those who can do so, we want them to go purchase one.”

A pair of hands hold a package labeled Explosive Gas & Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Mississippi MOVE Director Mac Epps holds a natural gas and carbon monoxide detector. Epps said the organization is accepting donations to continue providing the devices to South Jackson residents. “We’re asking people to provide donations. We don’t have resources to cover the whole South Jackson. Those who can do so, we want them to purchase one,” he said on Feb. 21, 2024. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

Epps said he’s now getting calls from people all over the city asking for a gas leak detector.

“We’re asking people to help with donations. We don’t have resources to supply the whole South Jackson. We don’t have enough to cover the whole city,” he said.

On Feb. 20, The Mississippi Free Press asked Atmos Energy Vice President of Public Affairs Bobby Morgan if the company would be open to providing gas leak detection devices for Jackson residents. Morgan responded with the following statement:

”Federal and state regulations require utilities to odorize natural gas so that ‘the gas is readily detectable by a person with a normal sense of smell.’ The sense of smell for most people is a highly reliable indicator of a natural gas release. However, do not rely on your sense of smell alone to detect the presence of natural gas: use any of your senses:

  • Smell the distinctive “rotten egg” or skunk-like odor that makes natural gas detectable.
  • Listen for a hissing or whistling sound near a gas appliance or a roaring sound near a pipeline.
  • Look for blowing dust, bubbling water or dead vegetation near a gas line.

“You can learn more about detecting a natural gas leak from our website

“In addition, methane detectors are commercially available and can provide an additional ability to detect the presence of gas. If customers choose to purchase them, these alarms must be selected, installed, and maintained pursuant to manufacturer’s guidelines.

“To learn more about natural gas home safety, please visit . Smell gas, act fast! If you suspect a natural gas leak, leave the area immediately! From a safe distance call 911 and Atmos Energy’s 24-hour toll-free emergency number at 866.322.8667.”

Epps said people can donate to Mississippi MOVE to support their efforts to provide Jackson residents with gas leak detection devices by visiting

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