A massive blast blew apart a US power plant as workers building it purged natural gas lines, killing at least five people and injuring a dozen or more.
The blast at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middletown, Connecticut, shook homes for miles.
Middletown’s mayor Sebastian Giuliano said at least 12 people were injured.
Deputy fire marshal Al Santostefano said crews were still searching for survivors in the rubble of the plant, about 20 miles south of Hartford.
Santostefano said earlier about 50 people were in the area yesterday when the explosion occurred.
He said it was difficult to tell how many people were at the plant because multiple contractors were working there, each with their own employee lists.
The 620-megawatt plant was being built to produce energy primarily using natural gas.
Santostefano said workers for construction company O&G Industries were purging the gas lines, a procedure he called a “blow-down”, when the explosion occurred.
Lynn Hawley, 54, of Hartland, Connecticut, said her son Brian, 36, a pipe fitter at the plant, called her from his mobile phone to say he was being rushed to Middlesex Hospital.
“He really couldn’t say what happened to him,” she said. “He was in a lot of pain and they got him into surgery as quickly as possible.”
She said he had a broken leg and was expected to survive.
Hospitals reported some seriously injured patients.
The thundering blast shook houses for miles.
“I felt the house shake, I thought a tree fell on the house,” said Middletown resident Steve Clark.
Kleen Energy Systems began building the power plant in February 2008. It had signed a capacity deal with Connecticut Light and Power for the electricity produced by the plant. Building was due to be completed by the middle of this year.
The company is run by president and former Middletown City Council member William Corvo.
Plants powered by natural gas are taking on a much larger role in generating electricity for the US.
Gas emits about half the greenhouse gases of coal-fired plants and new technology has allowed natural gas companies to begin to unlock gas supplies that could total more than 100 years at current usage levels.
Natural gas is used to make about a fifth of the nation’s electricity.
Connecticut governor Jodi Rell was visiting the scene today and called out a specialised search and rescue team to help firefighters.
The state’s Emergency Operations Centre in Hartford was also activated, and the Department of Public Health was called to provide tents at the scene for shelter and frontline medical treatment.
Rell said the emergency teams were expected to work through the night.
Daniel Horowitz, a spokesman for the US Chemical Safety Board, said the agency was mobilising an investigation team from Colorado and hoped to have the workers on the scene later today.
In February 2009, an explosion at a We Energies coal-fired power plant near Milwaukee burned six workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is still investigating.
In the past few years, an explosion at a Dominion Virginia Power coal-fired plant in Massachusetts killed three workers in November 2007, while one worker and nine others were injured at an American Electric Power plant of the same type in Beverly, Ohio, in January 2007.