PAT EATON-ROBB and JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN Associated Press Writers
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — An explosion that sounded like a sonic boom blew out the walls of an unfinished power plant and set off a fire during a test of natural gas lines Sunday, killing at least five workers, injuring a dozen or more and leaving crews picking through debris for more possible victims.
Fire Department Deputy Fire Marshal Al Santostefano, center, and other police and fire officials set up a temporary emergency staging area Sunday on River Road in Middletown, Conn. AP photo
At least 12 people were injured in the explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middletown, about 20 miles south of Hartford. Crews with dogs were still searching the rubble as darkness fell over the plant, which overlooks the Connecticut River. A fire official in Middletown, Conn., says no one is known to be missing after an explosion at a power plant killed 5 people and injured a dozen or more. Deputy Fire Marshal Al Santostefano tells The Associated Press that crews will spend all night Sunday going through debris but there is nobody firefighters believe is unaccounted for from the 50 to 60 people in the area at the time of the explosion. He says the investigation of the cause of the blast will not begin until Monday morning. The explosion happened around 11:17 a.m., he said. Mayor Sebastian Giuliano called it a gas explosion but said the exact cause wasn’t immediately clear. “It felt almost like a sonic boom,” Giuliano said at an evening news conference. The search was focusing in part on who was at the plant at the time of the explosion. Giuliano said 100 to 200 workers would have been there on a typical weekday. The 620-megawatt plant is being built to produce energy primarily using natural gas. Santostefano said workers for the construction company, O&G Industries, were purging the gas lines, a procedure he called a “blow-down,” when the explosion occurred. The building was still standing, but the blast blew out the sheet metal that covers its sides. Lynn Hawley, 54, of Hartland, Conn., told The Associated Press that her son, Brian Hawley, 36, is a pipefitter at the plant. He called her from his cell phone to say he was being rushed to Middlesex Hospital. “He really couldn’t say what happened to him,” she said. “He was in a lot of pain, and they got him into surgery as quickly as possible.” She said he had a broken leg and was expected to survive. Officials had not released the conditions of the other injured people by Sunday evening, although they said at least a dozen had injuries ranging from minor to very serious. The thundering blast shook houses for miles. Kleen Energy Systems LLC began construction on the power plant in February 2008. It had signed a capacity deal with Connecticut Light and Power for the electricity produced by the plant. Construction was scheduled to be completed by mid-2010. Plants powered by natural gas are taking on a much larger role in generating electricity for the United States. Gas emits about half the greenhouse gases of coal and new technology has unlocked gas supplies that could total more than 100 years at current usage levels.