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Doomed FL Worker Had Warned Off Others

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

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A welder working to dismantle a seven-story power plant “sensed something wasn’t right” and yelled for co-workers—including his own son—to evacuate, just before the structure collapsed around him, the family says.

The body of Clark White, 65, a welder from Moundsville, WV, was recovered just before midnight Tuesday from the wreckage of Progress Energy Florida’s retired Paul L. Bartow Power Plant on Weedon Island, FL.

White was working inside the plant’s 180-foot tall Number 3 boiler about 7:15 p.m. Thursday, when the structure suddenly crumbled just 75 minutes before workers were to begin a “controlled collapse.”

 Clark White
Clark White, 65, was “a father figure” to co-workers at Frontier Industrial Corp., the company said.

The 21 workers on site—including White’s son, Travis—fled to safety.

‘My Brother Was in the Building’

Travis White, 31, later said that his father had warned the crew away just before the accident. “My brother was in the building, and my dad yelled for him to get out,” P.J. Ondeck, the oldest of Clark White’s four children, told The St. Petersburg Times. “He told me that the building fell on my dad.”

Clark White, who had been working with a torch on the ground floor, “heard cracking and popping” inside the plant and “sensed something wasn’t right,” the newspaper reported.

“He started yelling for everyone to get out,” the paper said. “The crew — which included his son — started scrambling. But when the dust settled, the crew realized White hadn't made it out with them.”

Painstaking Search

Rescue teams hoped that White had been trapped inside one of many voids in the mountains of steel, glass and concrete rubble, which stood up to 70 feet high.

And, in fact, that is apparently what happened. Officials said Monday night that White's body did not appear to have been crushed and had been found in an 18-inch-high, 48-inch-wide void.

However, the debris pile was not only massive but highly unstable, and the 10-hour daily search was slow, taxing and painstaking. Under the guidance of structural engineers, responders used dogs, cameras, heavy equipment and even their hands to pick through the vast piles of wreckage.

“It was an area that we continued to work through,” St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue division chief Alan Rosetti said at a news conference later. “It was some tedious work. It takes time. We are trying to be gentle.”

Teams also used torches to cut heavy non-load-bearing beams. Beams bearing loads were left alone, and searchers had to find ways around them, said Rosetti.

The race against time was compounded by what was certainly a toxic breathing environment, said Rosetti. While White may have survived the initial collapse, “the dust and stuff would have been horrendous,” he said.

Hopes for White’s survival dimmed as the search ground on, and the operation shifted from rescue to recovery mode on Saturday. About 5 p.m. Monday, a camera spotted White’s body. It took nearly seven hours to free him.

‘A Father Figure’

White worked for Buffalo, NY-based demolition contractor Frontier Industrial Corp., which was dismantling the plant under a contract with Progress Energy. White had worked for Frontier for eight years, officials said.

“Clark was a father figure to many people in our organization, and he will be missed dearly,” Robert Zuchlewski, the company’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. Zuchlewski thanked the agencies involved in the recovery effort.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is investigating White’s death. Progress Energy, Frontier and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the collapse.

“Something went wrong, but it's just too early at this point to say exactly what that was,” said Progress Energy spokesman Tim Leljedal.

In addition to his children, White is survived by his wife, Penny. In a statement, the family said it had lost “a husband, father, a grandfather and a friend.” The statement expressed “genuine and sincere thanks … from our hearts to yours” to those involved in the rescue effort.

The Bartow steam plant began service in 1958 and was slated for dismantling following the 2009 construction of four on-site, gas/oil-fired combustion turbines and one steam turbine.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Health and safety; OSHA; Power Plants

Comment from Mike Gerber, (6/15/2011, 9:03 AM)

Mr. White sounds like an outstanding person, dedicated to his craft and his family. My condolences to all.

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