Massive explosions rock central Florida gas plant

  • Posted: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 7:24 a.m.
This frame grab provided by WKMG TV shows the fire at the Blue Rhino plant in Tavares City, Fla Tuesday July 30, 2013. (AP Photo/WKMG TV)

TAVARES, Fla. — Massive explosions rocked a central Florida propane gas plant, sending seven people to area hospitals.

All the workers at the plant were accounted for early Tuesday after officials initially could not account for more than a dozen employees.

John Herrell of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office said there were no fatalities despite massive blasts that ripped through the Blue Rhino propane plant late Monday night.

“At this point we have no fatalities being reported,” he said. “Management is comfortable saying all of those they knew were there tonight have been accounted for.”

One person injured in the explosion was listed in critical condition at University of Florida Health Shands Hospital. Two others were listed in critical condition at Orlando Regional Medical Center and a spokeswoman there said a third patient was en route, also listed as critical.

Herrell said some others drove themselves to area hospitals.

The Blue Rhino plant refilled propane tanks typically used for barbecues and other uses.

Herrell said a crew of 24 to 26 people was working at the plant on an overnight shift when the explosions occurred around 11 p.m.

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 was sending plumes of smoke into the air hours after the blast. Emergency crews could also be seen massing nearby.

Herrell said an evacuation zone was initially a one-mile radius but had been reduced to a half-mile radius. No injuries have been reported from residents in the neighborhood and residents were later allowed to return to their homes.

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.

“It was like a car had run into my house, is what I thought had happened,” she said.

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 but they could not guarantee that.

Herrell said the plant usually has 53,000 20-pound propane tanks.

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

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