Blast levels building in Chicago

July 17, 2009 10:13 pm 

CHICAGO, July 17 (Xinhua)– Chicago Fire Department crews were responding to an explosion that leveled a building near after 9 a. m. Friday on the western side of Chicago. At least two people were seriously injured in the massive explosion that tore through a commercial vegetable oil plant, authorities said.

The two victims were among workers being decontaminated on-scene following the explosion that occurred as chemicals were being mixed and a truck was being unloaded in the plant, said Fire Department spokesman Quention Curtis. Sulfuric acid is used in the work done at the plant, and may have been involved in the explosion, Curtis said.

A chemical cloud rose from the explosion, and area buildings were evacuated and streets blocked off. Five ambulances and a hazardous materials team responded to the incident.

The explosion happened after someone inside the buidling inadvertently mixed improper chemicals together, Fire Media Affairs Director Larry Langford said.

"Due to the chemical mix, there was an explosion which caused heavy structural damage to the building," he said.

He said all people who were inside the building at the time of the explosion were believed to be accounted for.

Rail traffic on the western side of Chicago were affected due to the incident.

Rick Cummisford, quality director for the plant, said two chemicals were being combined in a mixing tank about 10 feet in diameter and 20 feet high when the explosion occurred.

A hazardous materials alarm at the plant was canceled about 10: 15 a.m., although police continued to shut down all streets in the area within two blocks of the explosion. But there appeared to be no danger to residents of nearby condos and two-flats. They had not been ordered to evacuated and were milling in the street.

The building where the explosion happened handles between 20,000 and 40,000 pounds of biodiesel fuel each day, said Fire Department spokesman Will Knight. The explosion partially collapsed a plant roof, he said.

In all, 20 ambulances and a hazardous materials team were called to the scene. After the initial hazardous materials response was declared under control, another was called for the nearby Metra yard building where some people were refusing treatment.

Fire Department officials said the cause of the blast is still under investigation. (PNA/Xinhua) ALM

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