CANTON — The National Transportation Safety Board is assuming control of the investigation regarding the natural-gas explosion in downtown Canton, it was announced Friday.

The city also intended to allow some businesses on the west side of the downtown square to re-open as early as noon Friday, although that plan was fluid.

The NTSB investigator in charge, Ravi Chhatre, arrived Thursday night, about 24 hours after the blast that killed one person and injured about a dozen others. He is based in Washington, D.C.

The federal board investigates all pipeline accidents that involve death, substantial property damage or significant injury, Chhatre said during a news conference that began just after 9 a.m. Friday at Graham Hospital.

The purpose of the investigation is to gather facts, not to punish offenders, according to Chhatre.

“The goal is to learn from what happened,” he said. “Nobody can turn the clock backwards. But we can learn from what happened and minimize other communities from suffering like this community did.”

Chhatre said he plans to be in Canton for the next few days, although that time might be extended, depending on what he finds. It appears three other NTSB investigators will be joining Chhatre.

It might take as long as one year before the NTSB issues a report, Chhatre said. The timetable depends on how many other cases the NTSB must investigate.

Chhatre first visited the explosion site, the Opera House Professional Center, shortly after he arrived in Canton. He said he was heading there directly from the news conference and has yet to interview anybody.

“I’m going … to find out what is happening, assess the scene and decide what I want to do next,” Chhatre said.

Canton authorities welcome the federal help, according to police Chief Rick Nichols. Henceforth, local authorities will be in charge not of the blast location but of the areas that surround it.

It hasn’t been determined which downtown buildings might be demolished, according to Nichols.

“There’s some concern on the accuracy of the buildings that they said were condemned,” he said. “You’ve got a few different entities that are reviewing this to decide what’s good and not good, and I think there’s a little confusion on which ones are going to be destroyed.

“The Opera House was by far the hardest hit, other than the building sitting behind it, which was completely destroyed.”

No additional public briefings have been scheduled Friday, Nichols said.

 

Nick Vlahos can be reached at 686-3285 and nvlahos@phstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.