Five killed in Connecticut power plant blast


A devastating explosion destroyed a Connecticut power plant Sunday morning as workers cleared a natural gas piping system, killing at least five and injuring many more, emergency response officers said.

Homeowners miles away said the 11 a.m. blast at the Kleen Energy Systems power plant in Middletown created a shock wave that some people mistook for an earthquake or some other act of nature.

“I felt the house shake. I thought a tree fell on the house,” Middletown resident Steve Clark told the Associated Press.

Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano said five people were confirmed dead and at least a dozen more were injured. He said rescuers would search for additional victims through the night.

Hours after the blast, which blew out windows and cracked foundations of neighboring houses, state police with specially trained dogs continued to poke through the rubble.

A resident of East Hampton, almost directly across the river from the plant, said he heard a loud boom about 11 a.m. and felt his house shudder. He thought someone had driven a car into his home.

The blast’s concussion interrupted services at a nearby church, where parishioners thought it was an earthquake.

The plant had been under construction for years and was nearing completion. It was designed to generate electricity by burning natural gas.

Middletown Deputy Fire Marshal Al Santostefano said the explosion was related to natural gas, but the cause was still under investigation. He said the blast appeared to have occurred when operators attempted a “blowdown,” a procedure that involves purging gas pipelines.

Only three days ago, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board was considering what it called urgent recommendations to change national fuel gas codes to improve safety as gas pipes are being purged during maintenance or installation of new piping.

The recommendations grew from the board’s ongoing investigation into the June 9 natural gas explosion at the ConAgra Slim Jim production plant in Garner, N.C., which killed four people and sent dozens to the hospital, three with life-threatening burns.

The identities of the dead were not released Sunday night, but family members confirmed that one of them was pipefitter Raymond E. Dobratz, 58.

The power plant, carved into a rocky bluff over a bend in the Connecticut River, is about 20 miles south of Hartford.

Santostefano said he believed the explosion occurred in the complex’s largest structure, a massive, square steel structure known as the power block building.

“They are taking the building apart, piece by piece. If they do find anybody, they would be under the rubble,” he said.

Middletown Councilman Ronald P. Klattenberg said the explosion blew out all sides of the building. “Parts of the walls are just flapping in the wind,” he said.

Emergency response personnel poured into the site after the explosion. At least 100 firefighters extinguished a blaze that flared briefly. By midafternoon, authorities said the public was not in danger.

Helicopters airlifted victims to hospitals.

One suffered a fractured pelvis, and another had a broken leg and internal injuries, hospital officials said.

Some of the victims were thrown 30 to 40 feet, resulting in abdominal injuries and broken bones, Middlesex Hospital physician Jonathan Bankoff said at an afternoon news conference.

“The majority of our patients are telling that story,” he said.

Hartford Courant staff writers Daniela Altimari, Monica Polanco, Jenna Carlesso and Alaine Grinnin contributed to this report.