A series of seven large blasts on a fuel barge in Mobile, Alabama, rocked the area Wednesday night, critically injuring three. An evacuation zone was set up after firefighters were unable to put out the blaze, which they hope will burn out overnight.
The first blast occurred on a natural gas barge on the east side of the Mobile River at around 8:30pm local time, and was followed shortly afterwards by four more blasts. Fox10 News has reported that the barges may still be carrying hundreds of gallons of gasoline.
The explosions took place on two barges in the Austal shipyard, the Mobile Fire and Rescue Department reported. The vessels were transporting natural gas, and were believed to be partially emptied, according to Steve Huffman, a Mobile Fire-Rescue spokesperson.
Authorities have ordered a one-mile evacuation zone around the shipyard.
The initial blast was triggered by a static charge after crews had been working throughout the day to empty the ship and prepare it to transport gas Thursday. Subsequent explosions have made it impossible for firefighters to board the ship and put out the blaze.
Officials said that there were no fatalities, but three victims of the explosion were in critical condition after being admitted to the University of South Alabama Medical Center for treatment.
The fifth explosion was reportedly the largest, coming an hour later, just moments after fire officials told reporters that a rumbling in the area was the sound of untreated gas pressurizing. The sixth explosion, about forty minutes after that, was first reported by witnesses and then confirmed by Mobile’s Fire and Rescue Department.
Local residents have reported hearing a seventh explosion around 2:00am local time in Mobile, according to Alabama Press-Register.
“That [seventh] explosion shook all my windows,” Mobile resident Johnny Gwin told local media.
Alan Waugh, the general manager of Ft. Conde Inn, told Fox10 News that the blast could be felt throughout downtown Mobile. The crew of a Carnival cruise liner, which was sitting in the water about 1,000 feet away from the blast site, has been evacuated, Channel 6 News reported. Parts of Austral, Alabama, have also been evacuated.Mobile’s Fire and Rescue Department said the tankers were carrying “raw gasoline, meaning no additives in the fuel,” and that tunnels in the area are still open and operating.
“We were up on a second floor balcony and the sky lit up in orange and yellow,” Waugh said. “My partner was on one end of the balcony and I was on the other. And you thought it was the Carnival cruise ship at first but then you realized it was a little further from the ship. It sounded like planes above you dropping bombs.”
Rescue teams estimated that one of the ships could be carrying as much as 2,000 gallons of natural gas.
The Coast Guard has closed the channel, and issued an order to restrict flights near the site. Red Cross volunteers are providing canteen services to hundreds of first responders and evacuees of the Mobile barge explosions.
Local residents have gathered at the riverfront to take pictures and watch the flaming barge, despite warnings from officials to stay away from the fire, according to the Alabama Press-Register.
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