Fire, explosions shake St. Louis industrial plant

Saturday, June 25, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- A blaze at an industrial plant sent huge fireballs shooting into the sky Friday, casting a towering cloud of black smoke over the area as nearby residents evacuated their homes.

There were no injuries, St. Louis fire chief Sherman George said. There also was no word on the cause of the rapid-fire series of spectacular explosions at Praxair Distribution, which processes propane and other gases for industrial use.

Company spokeswoman Susan Szita Gore said she wasn't certain how many of the plant's 70 employees were there at the time of the explosions, but all were evacuated safely.

The explosions appeared to come from tanks outside the plant and from the plant itself. Cars and trucks parked nearby also caught fire.

Firefighters held back at first before trying to battle the blaze as the blasts sent flames more than 150 feet in the air. The fire and smoke could be seen for several miles.

Police said Interstate 64 was shut down for fear that additional cylinders might explode. By late afternoon, officials said they believed the materials had stabilized.

The company is part of Praxair Inc. of Danbury, Conn. Its primary products are atmospheric gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, argon and rare gases, along with process and specialty gases like carbon dioxide, helium, hydrogen, semiconductor process gases and acetylene.

Leland Darrow, assistant area director of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration office in St. Louis, said he was not aware of any safety violations at the plant.

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