published Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

No fatalities after massive Florida gas plant blasts

This frame grab from an Associated Press video shows flames from a gas plant explosion in Tavares City, Fla., on Monday July 29, 2013.
This frame grab from an Associated Press video shows flames from a gas plant explosion in Tavares City, Fla., on Monday July 29, 2013.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TAVARES, Fla. — All the workers at a Florida propane gas plant rocked by massive explosions were accounted for early Tuesday morning after officials initially could not account for more than a dozen employees.

John Herrell of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office said early Tuesday that there were no fatalities despite massive blasts that ripped through the Blue Rhino propane plant late Monday night. Seven people were injured and transported to local hospitals.

“At this point we have no fatalities being reported,” he said. “Management is comfortable saying all of those they knew were there tonight have been accounted for.”

Herrell earlier had said 15 workers were unaccounted for after the blasts, but all were later found safe. Herrell said several fled the scene, some driving themselves to area hospitals.

The Blue Rhino plant refilled propane tanks typically used for barbecues and other uses.

Herrell said a crew of 24 to 26 people were working at the plant on an overnight shift when the explosions occurred late Monday.

Video footage on WESH-TV in Orlando showed fires burning through trucks used to transport propane tanks, which were parked at the plant. The fire was sending plumes of smoke into the air hours after the blast. Emergency crews could also be seen massing nearby.

Herrell said an evacuation zone was initially a one-mile radius but had been reduced to a half-mile radius. No injuries have been reported from residents in the neighborhood.

Herrell said officials believe the fire is contained and won’t spread to another part of the plant but they cannot guarantee that.

Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said he was still getting “preliminary information” from local authorities.

The blasts began about 11 p.m.

Herrell said the plant usually has 53,000 20-pound propane tanks.

According to the Leesburg Daily Commercial, the plant was built in 2004 and employs fewer than 50 people.

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