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Investigators seek cause of Conn. power plant explosion (11 a.m. 2/8/10)

By John Christoffersen
AP Writer

Middletown, Conn. — A section of an under-construction power plant that exploded was too unstable to search Monday, and left questions about whether anyone was trapped inside because authorities do not have an exact roster of everyone who was on duty at the time of the blast.

Sunday morning’s blast at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middletown, about 20 miles south of Hartford, killed at least five people and injured a dozen or more others. It happened as workers were clearing gas lines of air, but the exact cause remained under investigation.

Welders and other workers were at the site Monday, preparing to make it safer for emergency personnel, said Ed Reilly, president of the Greater Hartford-New Britain Building Trades Council.

Middletown Deputy Fire Marshal Al Santostefano said about five people remain unaccounted of the nearly 100 workers who were at the plant, citing conversations with contractors and labor union officials. It was unclear whether those workers are missing or haven’t been contacted yet by authorities.

Investigators returned to the scene Monday to try to begin determining the cause.
Santostefano said he didn’t know when rescue crews would be able to search the small section of the plant that is unstable.

Piles of rubble were 10 feet tall in some parts of the plant, and mounds of rubble and debris were everywhere, he said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Monday morning that officials still haven’t received rosters of workers who were at the plant Sunday.

“There are a number of contractors who do the work at the building,” Rell told WTNH-TV. “Until we actually have a roster of the names of those individuals that are in each of those groups and who was working on Sunday, we need that before we can do anything else. … We’re still confirming the number of people.”

The explosion was so powerful it alarmed residents who heard the boom and felt tremors in their homes miles away.

Rescue crews combed through the debris until about 2:30 a.m. Monday.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents, was mobilizing a team of workers from Colorado, spokesman Daniel Horowitz said.

The nearly completed 620-megawatt plant is being built to produce energy primarily using natural gas, which accounts for about a fifth of the nation’s electricity. Workers for the construction company, O&G Industries, were purging a gas line, clearing it of air, when the explosion occurred around 11:15 a.m. Sunday, Santostefano said.

Santostefano said workers were at the site Sunday because they were trying to get the plant open on time — the opening was slated for sometime in the middle of 2010 — but he said “It wasn’t like they were working in a frenzy.”

Kleen Energy Systems LLC began construction on the plant in February 2008. It had signed a deal with Connecticut Light and Power for the electricity produced by the plant, and would be one of the biggest built in New England in the past few years.

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