Staten Island, NY Explosion, Feb 1973
GAS TANK BLAST KILLS 43
NEW YORK (AP) -- An explosion collapsed the top of a volcano-shaped gas storage tank on Staten Island Saturday and fire officials said 43 workmen trapped under tons of rubble inside the smouldering cone were feared dead.
The tank and been emptied of liquid gas for some time to permit repair of insulation, cleaning and maintenance work within.
Fire Chief John O'Hagan said there was "no sign of life" within the 8-story-high, gray cinder-block tank as acrid billowing smoke kept rescue firemen from descending to the floor of the fiery cone.
"The fire is burning vigorously under the concrete and we are still trying to control that fire," O'Hagan said after nearly seven hours of fire-fighting operations. "It is very discouraging. We may have to cut through the concrete and the reinforcing rods and that will be a prolonged operation. It's a matter of days, not hours."
O'Hagan said the fire department's plan was to use two huge cranes used by the workmen and two others to be brought to the scene to lift the shattered concrete from the bottom of the cone once the blaze had been extinguished.
A workman who was in a crane shack just inside the opening at the top of the tank at the time of the explosion said he was warned by "a hissing sound in the hole, like air blowing the smoke out."
"I started to run out of the tank and got half way down the side and she blew," said JOHN CARROLL, 31, of Queens, from a Staten Island hospital bed where he was being treated for broken ribs and smoke inhalation.
In Washington meanwhile the head of Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said an inspection team was on its way to the scene to find out if any federal safety standards had been violated.
Hours after the explosion, thick dark smoke poured from the shattered dome of the squat, truncated cone, giving the tank the look of Mt. Vesuvius in eruption. No flames could be seen from the hole in the top.
"It was like a science fiction novel, or Dante's 'Inferno'",said Fireman Edward Cooper, who had been lowered by a crane from atop the masonry tank to survey the holocaust.
Cooper and other firemen who made the exploratory descent into the pit said they could see flames beneath the rubble at the floor of the tank, where the workmen were believed trapped.
"It's an eerie sight," said a fireman as he emerged, doffed his oxygen mask and stepped from a fire department rescue basket that had lowered him into the hole.
"It's worse than we thought," said Chief O'Hagan after receiving reports of the damage inspection.
ROBERT GARRAPUTA, a crane operator who was working outside the cone, said the men inside were installing a porous insulating material and were using epoxy glue. He said the bottles of epoxy were removed after each day's work as a safety precaution.
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