Fla. Chemical Plant Explodes, Half Mile Area Initially Evacuated

December 20, 2007

An explosion and fire at a chemical plant in Jacksonville, Fla., killed four people Wednesday and injured at least 14, fire officials said.

Fire officials initially ordered a precautionary evacuation within a half-mile of the plant. But the order was rescinded just after 4 p.m. when firefighters determined that the level of toxicity in the air was no greater than an average house fire, Tom Francis, a fire rescue spokesman said.

It was not clear what caused the explosion about 1:30 p.m. at the T2 Laboratories Inc. plant, which makes chemical solvents and fuel additives, said Francis.

The chemicals at the plant made the environment “incredibly dangerous for the first responders,” Francis said. “Explosions were generating all kinds of side brush fires and other kinds of blazes.”

Hospitals reported one patient in critical condition, three fair, seven good and one had been released. Conditions for the rest were unknown, or it wasn’t clear where they were being treated.

An emergency number listed on the company’s Web site was answered by a woman who said she was an owner’s friend. She said the only details she had were from media reports and then hung up.

A board member and a six-person investigation team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board was expected to arrive at the site Thursday morning to begin an investigation.

Witnesses told The Florida Times-Union that debris from the afternoon explosion flew several stories into the air.

Derek Pratt, 24, was flying a remote control airplane field at a field about a mile away when he heard a series of thudding explosions.

“Those shock waves came straight through these hills,” he told the newspaper. “It was like a great ball of fire in the air.”

John Swearingen said he works at, Masthead Hose Company, which is down the street from where the explosion occurred. He told The Florida Times-Union that the building he was in suffered severe damage.

“It blew our roof off and blew the safety doors right off the hinges,” Swearingen told the newspaper. “It picked one guy up and threw him into a rack but he did not get hurt.”

He said no one in the building was injured.

The fire was across the street from a JEA power plant, a spokeswoman with the utility said.

On the Net:

T2 Labs: http://www.t2labs.com

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