Skip to comments.Mysterious explosion injures four (Austin, TX)
Posted on 11/04/2003 5:00:35 AM PST by Arrowhead1952
Officials unsure what caused blast at construction site
By Tony Plohetski
Monday, November 3, 2003
An explosion with an unknown cause rocked a City of Austin construction site Monday afternoon, injuring four workers, one critically, and rattling the ground and buildings up to 50 yards away.
Construction on the site, once home to a chemical company, had been halted this year after crews discovered a white substance that they said appeared suspicious. However, that chemical was determined not to be hazardous, and work resumed a couple of days later, said Fred Evins, division manager for the city's project management division.
"The big question on my mind is, what did they encounter today?" Evins said Monday.
Investigators immediately ruled out a natural gas pipeline rupture, and officials said dirt surrounding the site, near the intersection of Burnet Road and Braker Lane in North Austin, tested negative for explosive residue.
At the site, the city is constructing a center for maintaining its vehicles, among other buildings. It is planning to hire an environmental consulting firm to conduct more tests as early as today.
"It's strange," said Battalion Chief Bruce Taylor, spokesman for the Austin Fire Department. "We're trying to determine exactly what happened, but right now, we don't have any ideas."
An explosion expert who did not have specific knowledge of the incident said the blast might have been triggered by the rupture of a methane pocket.
The injured workers, employed by A&B Construction in Austin, suffered abrasions from flying debris and other trauma and were being treated at Brackenridge Hospital. One reportedly had life-threatening injuries, and the others were in stable condition.
The men's names were not released.
Taylor said emergency officials were called to the site about 1:30 p.m. and that the men had been laying utility piping in an 8-foot-deep trench. Officials with A&B, subcontracted by Spawglass contractors, would not comment.
Sandra Johnson, a sales associate with Furniture Warehouse, whose rear entrance backs up to the site, heard the blast from inside her office.
"I just heard a loud boom, nothing like I've ever heard," Johnson said. "It was loud, and it shook the building. The minute I heard it, I knew it wasn't a car accident. I thought it was a sonic boom."
The force of the explosion was strong enough to knock the fastened helmet from one of the injured workers, officials said.
Mark Payne, a clerk at a nearby RaceTrac gas station, said he had just arrived for work when he heard the blast. Several people abandoned gas pumps and ran closer to the site to figure out what happened, he said.
"I heard a loud, brief explosion, and I felt the ground tremble," he said. "At first, I thought it was a huge automobile accident."
Payne said he then saw a large dust cloud and several workers running and shouting.
Brian Brown, owner of Brian Brown and Associates in Vancouver, British Columbia, which specializes in explosion investigations, said a methane pocket combined with fuel from construction equipment might have caused the blast.
Methane would probably have been in the ground if the area was once used for dumping, especially of natural products, they said.
Evins said the city conducted an environmental assessment of the 24-acre property when the land was bought in October 1995. Officials apparently found nothing that would prevent them from purchasing the land, he said.
The explosion site remained cordoned off Monday night, and work on the surrounding area had been suspended.
"We need to make sure that nobody else gets hurt," said Joel Stone, regional manager for Spawglass. "We need to find out all the details about what happened. We'll continue to work on it until we have the answer."
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