National News

July 30, 2013

Massive explosions rock central Fla. gas plant

TAVARES, Fla. — A series of explosions rocked a central Florida propane gas plant and sent “boom after boom after boom” through the neighborhood around it. Eight people were injured, with at least four in critical condition.

John Herrell of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office said early Tuesday there were no fatalities despite massive blasts that ripped through the Blue Rhino propane plant late Monday night. Officials initially scrambled to find more than a dozen employees after the explosions.

“Management is comfortable saying all of those they knew were there tonight have been accounted for,” he said.

Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith said possible causes of the explosion may be either equipment malfunction or possibly human error. Sabotage was not suspected.

One person injured in the explosion was listed in critical condition at University of Florida Health Shands Hospital and three others were listed in critical condition at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Herrell said some others drove themselves to area hospitals.

Tavares Battalion Commander Eric Wages said five workers walked up to a command center firefighters set up near the plant Monday night with skin hanging off their arms, torso and faces. He said their arms were outstretched and they were in complete shock.

The Blue Rhino plant, which is northwest of Orlando, refilled propane tanks typically used for barbecues and other uses. There were some 53,000 20-gallon tanks at the plant on Monday.

Herrell said a crew of 24 to 26 people was working the overnight shift when the explosions occurred around 10:30 p.m. Monday.

Tuesday morning, smoke still billowed from a storage container on the property, which consists of a couple of warehouses next to each other. The parking lot was littered with thousands of blackened 20-gallon propane containers.

Nearby, three 33,000-pound tanks of propane sat untouched. Lake County Battalion Chief Chris Croughwell said the hoses designed to spray water on the large tanks in case of fire, did not go off as planned because they had to be manually activated. “Most sane people don’t stick around for an event like this,” he added.

Tavares Mayor Robert Wolfe said Tuesday that he was surprised to learn the hoses at the plant had to be manually activated. If Blue Rhino reopens the plant, Wolfe said he plans to raise the safety issue. “That way, it’s fail safe,” Wolfe said. “We’re lucky those tanks didn’t explode.”

Croughwell said firefighters who responded to the initial fire had to wait to enter plant site because conditions were so dangerous. Just as they were finally about to go in, four tractor trailers parked next to the large propane tanks caught fire.

If the large tanks exploded, Croughwell said, “it would have wiped us out.”

Video footage on WESH-TV in Orlando showed fires burning through trucks used to transport propane tanks, which were parked at the plant. The fire sent plumes of smoke into the air hours after the blast.

Keith said the explosions shook his house several miles from the plant. “It truly sounded like a car hit our house,” he said.

Herrell said about 50 homes were evacuated Monday night but residents were allowed back in about four hours later.

Marni Whitehead, 33, who lives less than a mile from the plant, said she was in bed ready to go to sleep when she heard a loud boom.

She ran outside and saw other neighbors outside and then they saw the explosions.

“We knew right away it was the plant, the propane plant,” Whitehead said. “After that, it was just sort of panic.”

Whitehead likened the explosions to Fourth of July fireworks. “And it was just boom after boom after boom,” she said.

Herrell said officials believe the fire was contained and wouldn’t spread to another part of the plant.

According to the Leesburg Daily Commercial, the plant was built in 2004 and employs fewer than 50 people.

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • 10

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:
     

    July 27, 2014

  • In other news

    June 29, 2014

  • 10 things to know for Monday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:

    June 29, 2014

  • 10 things to know for Monday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:

    June 22, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Thursday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday.

    May 28, 2014

  • TV show seeks teen rebels for reality show

    A television producer is seeking teenagers as young as 13 who like to make their own rules and “party like a rock star” to participate in a reality television series about their lives.

    May 28, 2014

  • Sterling responds to NBA, June 3 hearing still on

    Donald Sterling and the NBA are headed toward a hearing that will determine if he remains owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

    May 28, 2014

  • Lawmakers, mourners weigh in on California rampage

    Thousands mourned the deaths of their classmates at a California university, lawmakers proposed ways to prevent the next round of deaths, and the rampant presence of guns were at the forefront of both discussions as a rampage that left seven dead reverberated across the state.

    May 28, 2014

  • Nebraska woman wolfs down 2 4 1/2-pound steaks

    A Nebraska woman celebrated breaking a Texas steakhouse’s speed record for eating a 4 1/2-pound slab of beef by polishing off another one.

    May 28, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Wednesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday.

    May 28, 2014