Canadian Manufacturing

Explosions, fire at US gas distributor; minor injuries reported

50 to 100 cylinders in bunker in plant exploded in West Virginia

POCA, W.Va.—Two workers were injured when gas being stored at a West Virginia industrial site exploded, officials say.

Fire crews were sent at about 3:20 p.m. May 13 to Airgas, a distributor of specialty gases in Poca, outside of Charleston, said Jason Owens of Putnam County’s emergency management centre.

Chad Jones with the Bancroft Volunteer Fire Department told reporters that 50 to 100 cylinders with the chemical acetylene that were in a bunker in the plant exploded.

The cause was not yet known but the fire was out.

A woman who answered the phone at the company’s regional headquarters said officials were in a meeting and could not immediately comment.

Doug Barker, chief financial officer at nearby Clark Truck Parts, told The Associated Press over the phone that “we felt our building shake like it’s never come close to shaking before from a storm or anything. It was enough to make us run.”

Barker said he and another company official bolted from their offices, and he ran to the road and saw dark smoke in the air to the east.

Soon afterward they heard several smaller explosions and saw fire, he said.

Barker also saw three or four ambulances speed by and heard a lot of sirens.

Clark Truck Parts is about half-mile from Airgas, Barker said.

He said there are some homes between the two industrial sites.

Dave Castro, manager of the TransWood trucking company about a quarter-mile from Airgas, said he also felt his building shake.

“It felt like a truck ran into the building,” he said.

He said he drove toward Airgas to check on his wife, who works at another company nearby, and could see the back of the plant on fire.

He said the burning area was about the size of a house, and every 15 seconds or so a black ball of smoke would rise from a tank or drum “and explode like a firework.”

Acetylene is used in welding canisters.

Airgas, which calls itself the largest U.S. supplier of industrial, medical and special gases, also lists on its website propane, often used in backyard grills; hydrogen, helium; and nitrous oxide, or the “laughing gas” used during certain dental procedures.

Owens described the workers’ injuries as minor and said the two were taken to Cabell Huntington Hospital for treatment.

A hospital official did not know their conditions.

The West Virginia Department of Transportation closed nearby Route 62 for about two hours while crews responded to the fire.

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