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3 missing in power plant blast

Published Oct. 12, 2005

An explosion touched off a fire in part of a power plant Monday, leaving three people missing and 32 injured. A crane and helicopter were used to rescue several workers from the burning building.

None of the 32 injured people was seriously hurt, authorities said.

The fire began in late morning at the Hoosier Energy-owned Merom Generating Station about 75 miles north of Evansville. It was brought under control by mid-afternoon, said Wally King of the Sullivan County Civil Defense Department.

Welding equipment apparently touched off the blast and fire in one of the coal-fired power plant's scrubbers, units that remove pollutants from combustion gases before they go up the smokestack, said state police Sgt. Bruce Canal.

Chris Tryba, spokesman for Hoosier Energy of Bloomington, said the company was still studying the cause of the explosion at the 10-year-old plant.

The missing men, all contract workers not employed directly by the power plant, had been working about 90 feet up inside the smokestack next to the scrubber when the blast occurred.

Other workers fled to the top of the 110-foot-high building and were trapped there by the fire.

Emergency workers used a crane and basket to lower about a dozen men from the roof. Another man was on a platform out of the crane's reach, and a helicopter was sent to rescue him. The man grabbed the craft's landing skids and was carried to safety.

Twenty-four workers were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and eight others were taken to Mary Sherman Hospital east of the plant in Sullivan, said hospital spokeswoman Roma Hayes.