5 Workers Killed in Connecticut Plant Explosion At least five people were killed in a gas plant explosion in Middletown, Conn., Sunday. The cause of the blast, which also injured at least a dozen people, is under investigation. The plant was under construction, and authorities say workers were purging natural gas lines.
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5 Workers Killed in Connecticut Plant Explosion

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5 Workers Killed in Connecticut Plant Explosion

5 Workers Killed in Connecticut Plant Explosion

5 Workers Killed in Connecticut Plant Explosion

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At least five people were killed in a gas plant explosion in Middletown, Conn., Sunday. The cause of the blast, which also injured at least a dozen people, is under investigation. The plant was under construction, and authorities say workers were purging natural gas lines.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep. Lets get an update now on yesterdays explosion at a power plant in Middletown, Connecticut. It killed five workers and injured at least a dozen more. From member station WSHU, Craig LeMoult reports.

CRAIG LEMOULT: John Whalen of East Hampton, Connecticut, was driving along Route 66 in Middletown Sunday morning when, from across the Connecticut River, he saw a huge explosion.

Mr. JOHN WHALEN: It was just like a fireball - as if you had a hibachi grill filled with gas, and when you throw a match on it, a poof of fire just straight up. And it was loud.

LEMOULT: The explosion was at the Clean Energy Power Plant, which was under construction. It was felt for miles around. As many as 100 contractor employees were in the area working on the new power plant, which was expected to start operating this summer. Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano spoke at a press conference.

Mayor SEBASTIAN GIULIANO (Middletown, Connecticut): It was a gas explosion. Terrorism has been ruled out. The plant was not fully online. It was undergoing a test of the gas line when the explosion occurred.

LEMOULT: Fire officials say workers were purging gas lines at the plant, meaning they were clearing the new lines of air before they were to be used for gas.

Daniel Horowitz, with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, says a team from the board will arrive today to begin an investigation.

Mr. DANIEL HOROWITZ (U.S. Chemical Safety Board): At this point, we don't know what caused this accident. Thats what our team will be there to try to determine. You know, I think that purging has caused a number of accidents, historically.

LEMOULT: In fact, the board recommended just last week that the national codes be changed to improve safety when gas pipes are being purged. Their recommendation is the result of an investigation of a fatal accident during the same purging procedure at a Slim Jim plant in North Carolina last June. Horowitz says he does not yet know whether those guidelines were followed at the Middletown plant.

A written statement from Energy Investors Funds, a private equity fund that indirectly owns a majority share in the power plant, expressed sympathy for the workers and their families, and said the company is cooperating with authorities.

The area around the plant was blocked by police. Middletown Deputy Fire Marshal Al Santostefano�said hes never seen anything like this.

AL SANTOSTEFANO (Deputy Fire Marshal): No. In 30 years in the fire service, no. This is definitely the most severe incident Ive ever been to.

LEMOULT: Santostefano�said searchers using dogs were looking through the rubble.

Mr. SANTOSTEFANO: Theres quite a bit of debris in there right now from the explosion. And theyre searching just to make sure. We want to make sure. Because the debris thats in there is not hand removable; it'll need machinery. So they want to make sure that there is nobody under there.

LEMOULT: He said theyve had a difficult time determining if anyone was still missing because there were so many different outside contractors working there - like welders, carpenters, the people working on the gas lines, and other tradespeople - no one has a good list of who was at the site at the time of the explosion.

For NPR News, Im Craig LeMoult in Middletown, Connecticut.

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