Firefighters on Thursday extinguished a huge blaze that erupted hours earlier when two fuel barges exploded, leaving three people with critical burns and forcing the evacuation of crew from a nearby cruise ship.
The cause of the explosions remained under investigation, but investigators believe it was likely from a spark caused by a crew cleaning the barges, Coast Guard Lt. Mike Clausen said.
Firefighters from Mobile and Coast Guard officials responded to the pair of Wednesday night explosions involving the gas barges in the Mobile River east of downtown. More explosions followed over the next few hours.
Authorities say three people were brought to the University of South Alabama Medical Center for burn-related injuries. The three remained in critical condition Thursday morning, hospital spokesman Bob Lowry said.
Across the river, workers were evacuated from the Carnival Triumph, the cruise ship that became disabled in the Gulf of Mexico in February before it was towed to Mobile’s port for repairs.
Alan Waugh, who lives at the Fort Conde Inn across the river from the scene, saw the blasts and said throngs of Carnival employees and others were clustered on streets leading toward the river as authorities evacuated the shipyard. A cruise spokesman said none of its workers were injured and there was no damage to the ship.
“It literally sounded like bombs going off around. The sky just lit up in orange and red,” he said, “We could smell something in the air, we didn’t know if it was gas or smoke.” Waugh said he could feel the heat from the explosion and when he came back inside, his partner noticed he had what appeared to be black soot on his face.
The barges are owned by Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine, company spokesman Greg Beuerman said. They were empty and being cleaned at the Oil Recovery Co. facility.
The barges had been carrying a liquid called natural gasoline, meaning there were no additives in the fuel. By mid-morning Thursday, a hazardous materials team sent to inspect the barges determined that no further hazards exist, the Mobile Fire-Rescue reported.
The explosion comes two months after the 900-foot(274-meter)-long Carnival Triumph was towed to Mobile after becoming disabled on the Gulf during a cruise by an engine room fire, leaving thousands of passengers to endure cold food, unsanitary conditions and power outages for several days. The ship is still undergoing repairs there, with many workers living on board.
Earlier this month, the cruise ship was dislodged from its mooring by a windstorm that also caused, in a separate incident, two shipyard workers to fall into Mobile Bay. While one worker was rescued, the other’s body was pulled from the water more than a week later.
(Associated Press writers Phillip Lucas and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.)
Was this article valuable?
Here are more articles you may enjoy.