Norfolk, VA Gas Tank Truck Explosion, Sep 1984


Norfolk (AP) -- A gasoline truck explosion that sent a river of fire through storm drains and forced residents to fell two apartment buildings left three men burned, one seriously, officials say.
"We were really lucky we didn't come up with more injuries. The potential was there," Fire Chief Tom Gardner said of the explosion caused Monday by the collision between a garbage truck and an Exxon tank truck carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline.
The Exxon truck driver, WILLIAM SCOTT, 58, of Virginia Beach, suffered first and second degree burns on his face, legs and arms. He was listed in serious condition at Norfolk General Hospital.
"He couldn't believe he was still alive," said Esther Danielson, a nurse who helped transport SCOTT to the hospital.
Gardner said two firemen suffered minor burns while dousing the blaze, which destroyed the Exxon truck and 21 cars and created a flaming river that flowed through storm drains into the Hague, an inlet off the Elizabeth River.
Officials evacuated residents of the 168-unit Pembroke Towers and the 64-unit Hague Park apartment building by the accident site on Colley Avenue in the Ghent neighborhood.
Several elderly residents were rolled outside in wheelchairs. Five of those evacuated were treated for high blood pressure and breathing problems, said Don Haupt, supervisor of the city's paramedics.
Another eight or nine people were evacuated from the Ronald McDonald House, which provides lodging for families whose children are being treated at nearby hospitals, said Greg LaRue, who manages the house with his wife.
Firefighters using foam extinguished the fires within an hour of the 9 a.m. explosion and residents were allowed to return to their homes.
TRALTON COOPER, 32, said he was backing the garbage truck out of a driveway at the Ronald McDonald House when he collided with the Exxon truck. COOPER later was charged with reckless driving.
"The tail of my truck caught the tail of the tanker,"
he said.
COOPER said when he saw fuel flowing down the street, he pulled his garbage truck away from the tanker.
"It exploded some five, 10 seconds after that," he said.
LaRue said the Exxon truck driver jumped out just before the explosion.
"Fuel started coming out of the side of the truck. He pulled over to the side and it went off," LaRue said. "It was a good-sized boom."
Jane Hillman, a resident of Hague Park apartments, said she heard a big explosion and then "a series of explosions as the flames hit the cars along the back fence" of a parking lot.

Winchester Star Virginia 1984-09-04