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Florida gas plant explosion: No fatalities after massive blasts

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- A large series of explosions rocked a gas plant about 40 miles north of Orlando late Monday, critically injuring two workers and forcing the evacuation of residents at least a mile away, authorities said.

Twenty-four people were working the night shift at Blue Rhino, a propane-tank business. Initially, 15 people were reported missing. But by 2 a.m. Tuesday, all employees had been accounted for, said Lt. John Herrell, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman. There were no reports of fatalities, he said.

The first explosions began a little before 11 p.m. Monday and lasted more than half an hour. They resumed about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday in tractor-trailers loaded with pallets of propane tanks, Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith said.

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Herrell said seven workers were transported to hospitals and two people drove themselves to the hospital. Two workers escaped unharmed, he said, and were talking with chaplains.

As of Monday, Herrell said, the plant had about 53,000 20-pound propane cylinders on site. There is “no indication whatsoever” how the fire or explosions started, he said at a news briefing.

The first blasts happened inside the plant, blowing the roof off, Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders said. After the second round, Keith pulled his firefighters out for fear they would be injured.

Five medical helicopters responded and took patients to at least four hospitals, according to public-safety scanner transmissions. At least six ambulances were seen.

Orlando Regional Medical Center was treating two critically injured men with burns, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The giant flames had subsided a bit by 1 a.m., when Herrell met with reporters about a mile from the plant.

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“At this point, the fire personnel are doing what they can...their main concern is containing this fire, containing this scene,” Herrell said, adding that fire officials believed the fire was “contained” shortly after 1 a.m.

At least 200 fire rescue, EMS and law enforcement officers from various law enforcement agencies had responded, he said.

“It’s a very dangerous scene,” Herrell said, adding that there were no reports of injuries among the first responders. “All I know in speaking with the fire chief is they have to proceed very cautiously.”

Residents described sounds similar to a shotgun or fireworks and saw bursts of light and a bright orange glow above the treetops, they said. Some reported a “giant fireball” in the sky.

“I heard a loud bomb sounds,” said Lisa Garner, 43, who lives in Lakeside, a subdivision of Tavares. “I thought somebody ran into my house.”

The flames could be seen from more than five miles away, witnesses said, and the vibrations could be felt in Mount Dora, which is about five miles from Tavares.

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