Thursday, April 25, 2013

Explosions on River in Alabama Injure Three People

April 25, 2013

Explosions on River in Alabama Injure 3

New York Times

A series of explosions on two fuel barges on the Mobile River in Alabama caused a fire to burn out of control into Thursday morning, leaving three people critically injured and forcing the evacuation of a Carnival Cruise Lines ship nearby.

The explosions took place as the barges were docked near Mobile, Ala., and they unleashed a plume of fire that burned for hours, illuminating the night sky above the Mobile River.

One of the barges was an empty compressed natural gas barge that was at the dock for cleaning. Coast Guard officials set up a one-mile safety zone around that barge, and because of the dangerous nature of the situation, they decided to allow the fire to burn into the morning.

Residents of the area described a terrifying scene as the explosions lit up the Mobile River.

“We thought it was an earthquake or something,” Amber Hobbs told, a local news Web site, recalling how the blasts shook her house as she was sitting down to dinner. “I have never felt anything like that.”

The spectacular blaze drew local residents to the riverfront to watch the fire, despite a call by Mobile’s mayor, Sam Jones, that they stay away.

Fire Department vehicles tried to get near the blaze but it was too intense, causing air bags in one of their vehicles to deploy roughly 200 yards away from the blaze.

The chief of the Mobile Fire Department, Steven Dean, told that he was unsure how much fuel was aboard the barges, contributing to the uncertainty of the situation.

Chief Dean said he was confident that the Carnival Cruise ship, the Triumph, would not be damaged. Only employees were on board at the time of the explosion, as the cruise ship was undergoing repairs in the wake of its ill-fated trip two months ago when an engine room fire left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico, stranding thousands of passengers in unsanitary conditions, lacking food and power.

Coast Guard officials said the first explosion was reported at 8:40 p.m. Wednesday night, with a second major explosion coming 30 minutes later. What fire officials described as “venting events,” which look and sound like explosions, continued over the next several hours, as built-up pressure inside the vessels was released through a vent.

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