Florida explosion: seven injured but fears of a dozen deaths unfounded
SEVEN people were injured when a series of massive explosions rocked a central Florida propane gas plant.
All of the workers at the Blue Rhino factory were accounted for early today after officials initially said more than a dozen employees were missing.
John Herrell, of the Lake County Sheriff's Office, said there were no fatalities despite last night's huge blasts.
"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."
One person injured in the explosion was said to be in a critical condition at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital. Two others were in a critical condition at Orlando Regional Medical Centre and a spokeswoman there said a third patient was en route, also listed as critical.
Mr Herrell said some other casualties drove themselves to area hospitals.
The Blue Rhino plant refills propane tanks typically used for barbecues and other uses.
Mr Herrell said 24 to 26 people were working at the plant on an overnight shift when the explosions occurred at around 11pm.
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.
Mr Herrell said an evacuation zone was initially a one-mile (1.6km) radius but had been reduced to half a mile (800m). No injuries were reported among residents in the area and residents were later allowed to return to their homes.
Marni Whitehead, 33, who lives less than a mile from the plant, said she was in bed ready to go to sleep when she heard a loud boom.
"It was like a car had run into my house, is what I thought had happened," she said.
She ran outside and saw other neighbours outside and then they saw the explosions.
"We knew right away it was the plant, the propane plant," Ms Whitehead said. "After that, it was just sort of panic."
She likened the explosions to Fourth of July fireworks. "And it was just boom after boom after boom," she said.
Mr Herrell said officials believe the fire has been contained and will not spread to another part of the plant but they could not guarantee that.
He said the factory usually has 53,000 20lb (9kg) propane tanks.
According to the Leesburg Daily Commercial, the plant was built in 2004 and employs fewer than 50 people.
Aerial view of the gas plant in Florida