At Least 5 Dead In Middletown Power Plant Explosion

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via WFSB Connecticut

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — An explosion at the Kleen Energy plant on River Road in Middletown on Sunday morning destroyed much of the plant, killing at least five people and injuring at least 12.

At a press conference on Sunday evening, Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano stressed there was no threat to public safety and officials had ruled out the possibility of a terrorist attack. Giuliano said five to seven fire crews remained on scene, as well as the urban search and rescue team looking for people who may be trapped under the rubble. He said it was difficult to say how many people were in the plant at the time of the explosion because many different contractors were working with their own employee lists.

On Sunday, Gov. Jodi Rell activated the Emergency Operations Center. The Emergency Operations Center in Hartford was being staffed by the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the Department of Public Health, the National Guard and Connecticut State Police.

The Department of Public Health was providing tents at the scene for shelter and medical triage.

Gordon Holk, general manager of the plant, said workers and contractors from O & G Industries, of Torrington and Ducci Electrical Contractors, of Torrington, as well as Keystone Mechanical Electrical contractors were at the scene at the time of the explosion.

Energy Investors Fund, one of the plant owners, released a statement on Sunday afternoon that said, “Energy Investors Fund, as one of the owners of the Kleen Energy plant, wishes to express their heartfelt concern for those killed or injured and their families. We are working with the plant to determine the cause of this accident and will give further updates as appropriate.”

Officials at both the Middletown Police and Fire Departments said they received an e-mail that said testing was going be to conducted at the plant on Sunday morning. Officials said when they received the emergency call, they believed it was all part of the test. They did send crews to the scene and discovered it was not a test.

The deputy fire marshall in Middletown said one side of the building had collapsed at the plant. There were reports of people trapped under metal, concrete and steel and a search and rescue operation was under way. On Sunday afternoon, Rell approved the use of the urban search and rescue team to assist in the search and rescue operations. Their search continued into Sunday evening.

The explosion left huge pieces of metal that once encased the plant peeling off its sides. A large swath of the structure was blackened and surrounded by debris, but the building, its roof and its two smokestacks were still standing. Rescue crews had set up several tents alongside the site, which is a few miles from Wesleyan University on a wooded and hilly 137-acre parcel of land overlooking the Connecticut River.

Fire departments from around the area were responding and fire officials said it took more than an hour to put out the fire that was caused by the explosion.

Middletown transit buses transported firefighters and other rescue workers to the scene all day on Sunday.

St. Francis and Yale-New Haven Hospitals were on disaster standby to take in injured people from the scene. Surrounding states have also offered their help to assist in the rescue operations.

Officials at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown said 11 people were treated there and two had been released. Officials said one person was transported to Hartford Hospital. Doctors at Middlesex said the force of the explosion threw people 30 to 40 feet into the air.

“I felt the house shake. I thought a tree fell on the house,” Middletown resident Steve Clark said.

Barrett Robbins-Pianka, who lives about a mile away and has monitored the project for years, said she was running outside and heard what she called “a tremendous boom.”

“I thought it might be some test or something, but it was really loud, a definite explosion,” she said.

Fighting through tears, one worker said, “It’s just horrible. All I know is I lost some union brothers. They are some close, close personal friends. It’s horrible. They were working. They were testing. I just heard there was a gas explosion and I’m getting all kinds of phone calls from union brothers. It’s horrible man, we got some people up there they got little kids that are at home and we lost them.”

One of the victims who was killed in the explosion was identified as Raymond Dobratz. He was a former member of the Old Saybrook Police Commission, was a plumber working at the plant and was transported by LIFE STAR medical helicopter to Hartford Hospital where he later died. His son, Erik Dobratz, called the elder Dobratz “a great dad.”

Lynn Hawley, 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 people had injuries ranging from minor to very serious.

Deputy Fire Marshal Al Santostefano told The Associated Press on Sunday night that no one was known to be missing amid the rubble from the damaged plant. Initially, Santostefano said 50 to 60 people were in the area at the time of the explosion, and multiple contractors were working on the project, which made it difficult to quickly account for everyone. Still, crews plan to spend the night going through debris in case there were any more victims.

The explosion happened around 11:15 a.m., Santostefano said. Mayor Sebastian Giuliano heard the blast.

“It felt almost like a sonic boom,” Giuliano said at the evening news conference.

Work on the plant was 95 percent complete, the mayor said.

The 620-megawatt plant was being built to produce energy primarily using natural gas and was scheduled to be completed in mid-2010. Santostefano said workers for the construction company, O&G Industries, were purging the gas line when the explosion occurred.

Rell visited the scene Sunday and announced late in the day that the state had imposed a temporary no-fly zone for a three-mile radius around the site to ensure that the safety of the search and rescue workers would not be jeopardized. The restrictions were put in place until Monday evening.

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At Least 5 Dead In Middletown Power Plant Explosion