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7 Blasts on AL Barges Injure 3

Friday, April 26, 2013

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A spark during cleaning operations apparently triggered seven explosions that blew up two fuel barges and sent three people to the hospital this week in Mobile, AL, the Coast Guard said Thursday (April 25).

The Coast Guard was notified about 8:40 p.m. ET Wednesday (April 24) of the first explosion on a barge in the ship channel in Mobile Bay, AL. That blast ignited a second one aboard a neighboring barge, and at least five more explosions followed those, touching off fires that blazed through the night.

Fire authorities monitored the blazes, allowing them to burn off the barges' stores of raw gasoline until they burned down and were brought under control Thursday morning.

The explosions sounded like "planes above you dropping bombs," Alan Waugh, general manager of the nearby Fort Conde Inn, told WALA-TV.

Mobile explosion video
Tad Denson / Airwind Creative via Fox 10

Bystanders ignored the mayor's requests to clear the area, remaining to shoot photos and video.

"We were up on a second floor balcony, and the sky lit up in orange and yellow," he said.

The concussion from the blasts activated the air bags in one fire vehicle at the scene, officials said.

Injuries, Evacuation

Three workers who were preparing the barges for reloading were severely burned and taken to the University of South Alabama Medical Center, authorities said.

The Coast Guard listed one person in critical condition, but a hospital spokesman told several news outlets that all three victims were in critical condition. All of the crew members were believed to be accounted for.

The shipping channel, which was closed as part of a designated safety zone during the fire, was reopened Thursday.

The fire occurred between Austal USA’s 24-hour shipyard and BAE Systems’ facility on the river. Neither company suffered damage or injuries, and employees were allowed to go home.

The fires also forced the evacuation of about 500 crew members aboard the Carnival Triumph, which was moored across the Mobile River. The cruise ship was the same one that lost power in February and drifted in the Gulf of Mexico for days before being towed to port for repairs.

Mobile explosion

Firefighters allowed the blaze to burn off the barges' gasoline stores through the night.

No damage was reported to the nearby Bankhead or George C. Wallace tunnels or to area roadways.

Although the blasts rattled nearby homes, a number of locals defied a request by Mayor Sam Jones to clear the area, remaining to take pictures and video of the scene.

Spark Cited

Mobile Fire-Rescue and news outlets reported explosions aboard two barges, although the Coast Guard referred to just one barge. The agency could not be immediately reached Thursday for clarification.

Kirby Inland Marine
Kirby Corp.

At least one barge was owned by Kirby Marine Inland, the nation's largest tank barge operator.

A spokesman, Coast Guard Lt. Mike Clausen, told reporters that the cause appeared to be a spark from a cleaning crew. The source of the spark was not explained, and no other details were immediately available.

The Coast Guard said the barge was owned by Kirby Inland Marine, of Channelview, TX. Parent company Kirby Corp. is the largest tank barge operator in the United States, transporting petrochemicals and other bulk liquid products throughout the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, according to the company’s website.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Explosions; Fire; Health and safety; Oil and Gas; Shipyards; Tanks and vessels

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