MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — An explosion that sounded like a sonic boom blew out walls of an unfinished power plant and set off a fire during a test of natural gas lines Sunday, killing at least five workers.
At least 12 people were injured in the explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middletown, about 20 miles south of Hartford.
Deputy Fire Marshal Al Santostefano told the Associated Press on Sunday night that no one was known to be missing. Still, crews planned to spend all night going through debris in case there were more victims. The cause of the gas explosion was unknown, and the investigation was to begin this morning, he said.
The explosion left huge pieces of metal that once encased the plant peeling off its sides. A large swath of the structure was blackened and surrounded by debris, but the building, its roof and its two smokestacks were standing. Rescue crews had set up several tents alongside the site, which is a few miles from Wesleyan University on a wooded and hilly 137-acre parcel of land overlooking the Connecticut River.
The explosion, which could be heard and felt for miles, happened about 11:15 a.m., Santostefano said. Mayor Sebastian Giuliano heard the blast. "It felt almost like a sonic boom," he said.
Santostefano said 50-60 people were in the area at the time of the explosion, and multiple contractors were working on the project, making it difficult to quickly account for everyone.
One of those killed was Raymond Dobratz, a 58-year-old plumber from Old Saybrook, said his son, Erik Dobratz."
The 620-megawatt plant, which was almost complete, is being built to produce energy primarily using natural gas. Santostefano said workers for the construction company, O&G Industries, were purging the gas lines, a procedure he called a "blow-down," when the explosion occurred.
Kleen Energy Systems LLC began construction on it in February 2008. It had signed a capacity deal with Connecticut Light and Power for the electricity produced by the plant, which was scheduled to be completed by mid 2010.