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A gas pipe explosion at a power station in the US state of Connecticut has left "mass casualties", police have confirmed. Skip related content

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"There was a massive explosion, there are multiple injuries and possible fatalities," said Middletown police office George Yepes.

The blast blew out a wall of the gas-fired plant, sent flames and black smoke into the sky and shook houses several miles away.

A search and rescue operation is now underway for workers who may have been buried in rubble, a local hospital spokesman said.

Two people were reported by CNN to have died in the incident at the Kleen Energy Plant, which occurred at around 11:30am local time.

Other reports claimed that up to 34 people had died and 100 were wounded, Viktoria Sundqvist, managing editor of local newspaper The Register Citizen, told Sky News.

"As far as we know, crews have contained the fire and are trying to assess the scene," she said.

Sky News US correspondent Keith Graves said the situation was confusing as the natural gas plant was still being built and an unknown number of construction workers had been at the plant.

"Nobody seems to know exactly how many people were on the site and it's posing difficulties for authorities trying to work out how many casualties there are," he said.

The shockwaves from the explosion were felt around the state, and Twitter users in the area shared their experiences.

Connecticut resident Christine Taylor asked other Twitter users whether they had heard or felt "loud rumbling and shaking".

"Didn't feel like an earthquake. Sonic boom perhaps?" she wrote.

After being informed of the nature of the incident, she added: "The explosion must've been enormous. Middletown is at least 12 miles from where I live..."

Another Connecticut resident, weather forecaster Geoff Fox, wrote on his blog: "Around 11:30 this morning my house shuddered.

"We've been hit by flying branches in storms. This was different. There was no sound, just a compression shock."

The Kleen Energy plant is a 620mw natural gas-fired plant that is situated 15 miles south of the city of Hartford.

It was recently at the centre of local controversy after it built a gas pipeline that passed near to Middletown residents' homes.

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From the NY Times

February 8, 2010
At Least 2 Dead, 7 Hurt in Connecticut Blast

A massive gas explosion Sunday rocked a power plant under construction in Middletown, Conn., where more than 50 people were working, setting off tremors that were felt miles away. Early reports indicated that at least five people were killed and 12 injured, according to authorities.

Al Santostefano, the Middletown deputy fire marshal, said the explosion, at about 11:25 a.,m., occurred as workers at the nearly completed Kleen Energy Systems generating plant were trying to suck natural gas out of the plant’s pipes, a procedure known as a “blow down.” He said the explosion and the resulting fire was contained to a single building known as the Power Block.

The plant, on the Connecticut River, is somewhat remote from Middletown’s residential core and from its best known institution, Wesleyan University, perhaps miles away. Yet so powerful was the blast that Mr. Santostefano heard the explosion from his home five miles away.

“I felt a tremor,” he said. “I thought to myself something somewhere has happened and then my pager went off.
The Associated Press quoted the mayor's office as saying that at least five people had died.

One of those killed was Raymond Dobratz of Old Saybrook, a 57-year-old pipefitter who had been working at the plant for a year, according to his son David, who is also a pipefitter and worked there with him.

“I got a phone call from my mother that there was an accident,” said David Dobratz. “I made some phone calls and I was told that my father had been deceased and an hour ago it was confirmed.”

Raymond Dobratz, who is survived by his wife, Paula and two other sons, Matt and Erik. He had once been a member of the police commission of Old Saybrook.

Peg Arico, a spokeswoman for Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, said 11 patients were brought to the hospital from the site. Two patients were then transferred to other hospitals because their injures were more serious and the hospital does not have an extensive trauma unit. Of the remaining patients, two were discharged and seven others were still being treated, Ms. Arico said.

“We did not see a lot of burn victims,” she said. “Of the ones that we are still treating, many have broken bones and other have abdominal pain. The injuries can be described as impact injuries from the explosion.”

Hartford Hospital officials said the hospital had received two of those injured in the blast, indicating that one patient came directly from the scene of the explosion.

“There are fatalities but we don’t have a confirmed number,” said a police official for the Middletown Police Department. Another police official said there were “multiple casualties and injuries. We just don’t know how many there are at this point.”

Mr. Santostefano said there were deaths, but would not confirm how many. Search dogs were dispatched to the plant to look for traces of people in case some workers were trapped in the debris.

“It’s a slow dig,” he said. “You pull material away slowly. It’s a slow process and they are in the middle.” He added, “There’s a possibility someone could still be alive under the debris.”

Officials said all of the officers and firefighters in Middletown, which is about a 30-minute drive southeast from Hartford, had been dispatched to the scene. There were also fire trucks at the scene from Westfield.

State Representative Matt Lesser, who represents a district adjacent to the plant site and lives a little over a mile from it , said he was enjoying a morning cup of coffee when he felt his apartment building shake.

“There was a loud rumble and my windows in my apartment rattled for five to 10 seconds,” he said. “I had no idea what it was. It was peculiar, but I didn’t think anything of it.”

Mr. Lesser, a Democrat who sits on the Energy and Technology Committee in the State Houseof Representatives and has toured the site once, said he then started receiving a number of telephone calls and text messages about the explosion.

“The first couple asked, ‘Did you feel that?’ and one person thought it was an earthquake,” he said. “And then the subsequent ones reported in about the explosion itself.”

A statement from her office said Gov. M. Jodi Rell was on her way to the scene of the blast and activated the state’s Urban Search and Rescue Team and the Emergency Operations Center in Hartford. Her office added that the Public Health Department was providing tents for triage and shelter.

The office of Middletown’s mayor, Sebastian N. Guiliano said the explosion did not affect the town’s water or air quality and he said terrorism was not suspected.

Police officials said they received dozens of calls from residents of Middletown and nearby towns who said that they heard a large explosion and felt earthquake-like tremors. One of those, woman who lives roughly two miles away and asked not to be identified, said:

“It was just a boom and I thought, oh, something fell on my house or my neighbor’s house.

Tina Lombardo, who lives three miles from the plant, said in a telephone interview that she was sleeping when the blast occurred.

"The dog and the kids woke me up,” she said. “They heard a loud bang. I didn’t feel anything shake and the kids said they didn’t either."

Ms. Lombardo said her kids were not shaken up. "They were just unsure of what it was, they thought it was a gun shot," she said.

The 620-megawatt plant on the Connecticut River was to have been both gas- and oil-fired. According to a report about the project’s financing, construction began in February 2008 and was scheduled to be completed this November.

Mr. Lesser said the project was being built on the top of a hill on an old feldspar quarry. He said that the facility was due to go into operation this spring and that tests were being conducted in preparation for that. Mr. Lesser added that the cost of the project — which he said had been delayed “due to a number of regulatory hurdles” — was about $1 billion.

“The hope was that by increasing generation, we could bring electric rates under control, which in the State of Connecticut, it is my understanding, are the highest in the continental United States,” he said.

About a year ago, there were articles in local newspapers about a plan to deliver low--sulfur diesel fuel to the Kleen Energy plant by constructing a 3-mile pipeline rather than using trucks. Residents who spoke at a hearing were concerned that the pipeline was too near one of the city’s main aquifers.

A Hartford television station WFSB, quoted Gordon Holk, the general manager of the plant, as saying that said workers from at least three contractors were at the scene when the blast occurred. Energy Investors Fund, one of the plant owners released a statement on Sunday afternoon that expressed concern for those killed or injured and their families and said it was trying to determine the cause of the accident.

WFSB said officials at both the Middletown Police and Fire Departments were alerted by e-mail that testing was going be to conducted at the plant on Sunday morning. Officials, the station said, thought the first emergency call was part of the test and their crews arriving at the scene discovered there was a real blast
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