Monday, 8 February 2010

Hunt for dozens feared buried in rubble of power plant blast

Dozens were feared dead or injured last night after a huge explosion at a newly built power plant in Connecticut that shook nearby towns like an earthquake.
The Kleen Energy Plant being built in the college town of Middletown apparently blew up during the first test of its natural gas-fired generating system. Flames were seen shooting from a pipeline as a fireball lit up the sky and a huge plume of smoke hung over the scene.
Officials said that five people were known to have died in the accident and 12 injured, but they cautioned that many more could be trapped. Victims were feared to have been buried in the rubble when the rear of the largest building on the site collapsed.
“What I have been told by the owners of the project is that there could be 100 to 200 people working on the site on any given day. That is the starting point. That is the number they cannot nail down: how many were there,” Sebastian Giuliano, the Middletown mayor, told a press conference.
“They were purging gas lines all weekend,” Mr Giuliano added. “When they run the test most of the people who were there are evacuated from the building. So it is not like there were 100 people in the building when the explosion occured.”
“It is just horrible,” one worker told local WFSB-TV. “All I know is, I lost some union brothers. They are some close, close, personal friends. It is horrible. They were working. They were testing. They got little kids that are at home, and we lost them.”
Residents of towns up to 30 miles away reported feeling a blast. Ron Klattenberg, deputy majority leader for the Democrats in the local administration, said that the explosion could be heard 50 miles away. “I visited the site,” he said. “The walls, which they say were built to withstand tornados, were all blown away. The girders were still there but the walls were all gone.
“There was complete devastation. I was in my boatshed three miles away at the time. There was one huge blast. I thought it was an earthquake or that a tree had fallen on the shed.”
Lieutenant Paul Vance, of the Connecticut state police, said that a search-and-rescue team with dogs and thermal imaging cameras had been sent to the scene to look for survivors. “We have deployed an immense amount of resources,” he said.
The 620-megawatt power plant, on the bank of the Connecticut river about two miles from Middletown city centre, was expected to go online in the summer.
Kleen Energy Systems received approval to generate 520 megawatts, enough electricity for between 364,000 and 520,000 households, in November 2002. In 2006 the company sought approval from the Connecticut Siting Council to be able to produce 620 megawatts, enough for up to 620,000 homes.
Al Santostefano, the deputy fire marshal, said that the explosion was related in some way to natural gas, but that the precise cause remained under investigation. The blast appeared to have happened when operators attempted a “blow down” of natural gas pipelines to clear the gas. “It was a massive explosion,” he said. “It is possible that there might be people trapped in the rubble. There was a lot of steel, from what I could see.”
Bernadette Nyland, who was outside when she heard the explosion, told WTNH: “They were doing the firing of the engines this morning and so something went wrong and it blew up and flames came shooting up almost as tall as that stack.”
With temperatures hovering near freezing, the Department of Public Health was providing tents for medical treatment and shelter. The Red Cross said that it was setting up a counselling centre for victims’ families.
Source: The Times

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