CA - Coke plant gas blast injures 9 : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Coke plant gas blast injures 9 By Paul Young Staff writer DOWNEY A 1,200-gallon propane tank exploded at a Coca-Cola bottling plant Friday, injuring nine people and creating a blast so forceful that it shattered nearby windows and sent a cat flying across a room. Paramedics transported two unidentified people to Downey Regional Medical Center, where they were treated for minor injuries and released. Seven other people drove themselves to a nearby medical clinic. They were treated for minor neck pain and ringing in the ears, said Capt. Darren Moon, a spokesman for the Downey Fire Department.

He said the explosion was caused after propane leaked from an apparent faulty valve on a tank next to the building. The heavier-than-air gas slid along the ground until it found its way into a water heater's pilot light, which ignited the gas.

When the gas exploded shortly before 9 a.m., 60 employees were inside an adjacent warehouse, where they were packing and loading Coke products for delivery, company officials said. They work for the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California, a franchisee of the Coca-Cola Co., at Lakewood Boulevard and Cleta Street.

Jack Vinson was drinking coffee when the blast rocked his home, only a block away.

"The cat was sitting in the window sill, and BOOM, the cat came flying at me," he said. "It went running off around the house. If I had a place to hide, I'd hide, too."

"I saw the explosion going up the wall," said Mark Nickerson, who owns Acme Screen and Window directly across from the warehouse. Nickerson was sitting in his truck, preparing to drive away, when the explosion occurred.

"I saw the burst of fire, then (hundreds of) plastic (crates) fly about about 150 feet in the air . . .," he said. "All you could hear was the blast, then the containers raining down."

Down the street, Don Vanderwall, an executive at CTU Inc. property management company, said the explosion felt like an earthquake. He was nearly blown off his chair. The windows in his building instantly shattered, and several door jambs were pried from the walls.

A roughly 30-foot-tall window panel was separated from the Downey Inn across the street from the plant, and a number of other businesses also had extensive window damage. After the explosion, several store owners and employees were seen sweeping shards of jagged glass outside.

Moon said the blast caused some structural damage to the concrete building's roof, and sent some roof sheeting flying. There was also a large, black mark left on the face of the warehouse from the fire.

When firefighters arrived on scene they doused the tank holding propane used to fuel forklifts and other equipment with 1,000 gallons of water a minute. They also sent an Urban Search and Rescue team inside the warehouse to search for trapped victims.

The firefighters, 50 of whom were on scene, extinguished the blaze in about 45 minutes, Moon said.

Bob Phillips, a spokesman for the bottling company, said the company is looking into paying for the damage to nearby businesses. He did not know how much it would cost.

The plant's production will not be affected, he said. And almost all of the employees returned to work by Friday afternoon.

Phillips said the company is conducting its own investigation to determine whether more safety measures can be taken in the future.

He added that the propane tank has always been on a regular maintenance schedule.

Humberto Alvarez, who lives across from the plant, is just glad he's still alive.

"I thought it was a bomb, to tell you the truth," he said.

-- Doris (, October 21, 2000

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