Officials: 3 Die in Arkansas Gasoline Tank Explosion

May 14, 2009

An empty gasoline tank undergoing repairs exploded May 13 at a fuel storage facility in rural north Arkansas, killing three workers, authorities said.

The explosion occurred just before 2:30 p.m. at a storage facility owned by TEPPCO Partners LP, a Houston-based energy company, said spokesman Rick Rainey. The tank had been previously cleaned and workers were preparing to install a new gauge on it, Rainey said.

Three workers for an outside company contracted to do the repairs died in the explosion, said Tommy Jackson, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. Rainey said the company was in contact with local first responders and federal work safety investigators about the explosion.

Rainey said it was not immediately clear whether the workers were inside or outside of the tank at the time of the explosion.

“We are going to do a full investigation,” Rainey said.

Officials said the three workers were employed by C&C Welding of Elizabethtown, Ky. A woman who answered the phone at the business acknowledged those killed worked for the company, but declined to give her name.

Elizabeth Todd, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Dallas, said federal investigators left for the explosion site Tuesday afternoon. Todd said she had no other details about the explosion.

The TEPPCO facility, just east of U.S. 67, stores diesel and unleaded gasoline for clients, Rainey said. The facility has five tanks with a capacity of 250,000 barrels, Rainey said.

Tuesday afternoon, the white tank still stood, its roof blown off by the force of the explosion. The round tank’s walls had been crumpled like an aluminum beverage can.

The explosion came as a series of thunderstorms rolled through Arkansas. The National Weather Service at North Little Rock recorded no instances of lightning in the area at the time of the explosion, forecaster Chuck Rickard said.

There appeared to be no release of fuel or fumes in the area surrounding the tank after the explosion, said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. Jackson said the explosion required no evacuations from the surrounding farmlands.

Jessie Honomichl, who lives down the road from the plant, said she heard the explosion’s boom across the surrounding farmland. The 89-year-old said she went to the window to look outside at the overcast skies.

“I thought it was thunder,” she said.

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