updated 5/12/2009 8:13:43 PM ET 2009-05-13T00:13:43

An empty gasoline tank undergoing repairs exploded Tuesday at a fuel storage facility in rural north-central Arkansas, killing three workers, authorities said.

The tank had been previously cleaned and workers had entered it to prepare to install new equipment when the blast occurred just before 2:30 p.m., said Rick Rainey, spokesman for the facility's owner, Houston-based energy company TEPPCO Partners LP.

Three workers for an outside company contracted to do the repairs died in the explosion south of Searcy in White County, said Tommy Jackson, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Officials said the workers were employed by C&C Welding of Elizabethtown, Ky. A woman who answered the phone there acknowledged those killed worked for the company but declined further comment.

Rainey said TEPPCO was in contact with local first responders and federal work safety officials about the explosion.

"We are going to do a full investigation," he said.

Elizabeth Todd, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said federal investigators left for the explosion site Tuesday afternoon. She had no details about the blast.

The TEPPCO facility stores diesel and unleaded gasoline for clients and has five tanks with a total capacity of holding 250,000 barrels of fuel, Rainey said.

The explosion occurred as a series of thunderstorms rolled through Arkansas. The National Weather Service recorded no instances of lightning in the area at the time of the blast, according to forecaster Chuck Rickard in North Little Rock.

There appeared to be no release of fuel or fumes in the area surrounding the tank after the explosion, said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. He said there were no evacuations from the surrounding farmland.

Jessie Honomichl, who lives down the road from the plant, said she heard the explosion's boom across the surrounding farmland. The 89-year-old said she went to the window to look outside at the overcast skies.

"I thought it was thunder," she said.

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