Nightly News   |  February 07, 2010

Deadly blast rocks Conn. power plant

According to officials, workers at a power plant were purging natural gas lines when a powerful explosion destroyed part of the building, killing multiple people and injuring at least 14. NBC's Ron Allen reports.

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>>> of the olympics. but we want to begin tonight with a massive explosion at a natural gas power plant that rocked central connecticut today, leaving a number of workers dead or missing and more than a dozen others injured. the blast occurred in the city of middletown at a plant that was still under construction, and it was so powerful it shook buildings and startled residents more than ten miles away . officials were quick to discount the possibility of terrorism, but tonight they are still trying to determine what exactly did happen and how many casualties there are. nbc's ron allen is in middletown tonight. he joins us with the latest. ron, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening to you, lester. this was going to be one of the largest power plants in new england. it was about 95% completed. a gas-fired plant, not a nuclear plant . all day officials have been saying about 50 workers were at the facility, but late today they admitted they really don't know how many workers were there when the explosion happened. we do know that five are dead, 12 injured, and it's unclear how many are missing. emergency crews responded just after 11:00 from across the state to the kleen energy systems power plant on a hill overlooking middletown , connecticut. a powerful explosion that sent clouds of smoke into the air, that could be seen for miles. residents in surrounding towns, some 15 miles away , say the concussion shook their windows and jolted their nerves.

>> it was like an explosion, an earthquake.

>> reporter: it took firefighters at least an hour to put out the gas-fueled inferno.

>> the fire is almost under control back here.

>> reporter: then search and rescue . at least 50 workers were believed to be on the job who could be trapped in the rubble. their anxious families and colleagues converged on the plant, desperate for information.

>> i just heard there was a gas explosion . i'm getting all kinds of phone calls from union brothers. and it's horrible, man. we've got some people up there. they've got little kids at home. we lost them.

>> reporter: many of the injured were taken to this hospital.

>> several of them were by report thrown 30 to 40 feet, and so the injuries that come with a fall or a throw.

>> reporter: injuries such as a broken pelvis, a broken leg . according to reports from the hospital. the power plant was approved back in 2002 . under construction six years later. and scheduled to begin providing electricity in june for about 550,000 homes. a complex of several buildings. investigators say the gas lines were being purged, or cleared when the blast happened in the rear of the main building .

>> it was connected with the gas, the natural gas pipe that was coming into the building. that was part of the involvement involvement. in the explosion. what caused it to explode, we're not sure yet.

>> reporter: late today state and local officials gave this update.

>> most of the people who were working there were evacuated from the building when they ran the tests. so it's not like there were 100 people in the building when the explosion occurred. but they're trying to figure out who was on the job today and where are they now.

>> reporter: search and rescue operations continue tonight, and officials say that's likely to continue tomorrow. it's a huge and cavernous site. officials also say that there was no damage done to the environment, no harm to the water or air here, and they say that there is no threat of another explosion. lester.

>> ron allen in central connecticut for us tonight. ron, thank you.

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