Newark, NJ Storage Tank Explosion, Dec 1983
FIRE CONSUMES HUGE GAS TANKS.
Newark, N.J. (AP) -- Millions of gallons of gasoline is three huge storage tanks burned freely in a super-heated fireball Friday after an explosion that killed one man, injured 23 other people and rocked communities up to 130 miles away.
About 90 firefighters stood by at the Texaco USA terminal at Port Newark, resigned to watching gasoline in the 10-story tanks burn itself out. Officials estimated the temperature near the fire at 2,000 degrees.
The cause of the blast had not been determined, but there was speculation it was triggered by an earlier explosion at a nearby company. Gasoline was seen gushing from one of the tanks shortly before they blew up.
Fire Director John Caufield said orange flames that darted hundreds of feet into the air and a plume of inky gray smoke probably would still be visible today. "You're not going to call it under control, but it's not going anywhere," he said.
Caufield said one worker was believed to be missing, but he would not elaborate. Texaco and officials of other nearby companies said no one was missing.
Shock waves from the 12:15 a.m. blast set off burglar alarms and shattered windows for miles around. In Jersey City, about four miles away, store windows were blown out and three people were charged with looting. Two people were treated for minor cuts from windows shattered by the blast.
The tanks are in an industrial area five miles west of New York City. Thousands of Manhattan-bound
commuters watched the blaze, some receiving summonses for parking illegally.
Fire department spokesman Lonnie Tucker said Texaco workers PHIL HEISSE and WILLIAM VAN ZILE were walking across a lot when they heard a small explosion at the Central Steel Drum Co. about 300 feet away.
Then came the huge explosion, which killed VAN ZILE, 40, of North Arlington. HEISSE escaped injury.
Officials speculated that two 55-gallon drums might have been blown from Central Steel to the Texaco tanks and triggered the fire.
But Lance Gold, plant manager at Central Steel, which cleans used storage drums with gas-fired flames, said his company was not responsible.
"All the explosions were at Texaco," he said.
Another worker said he saw gasoline pouring from a Texaco tank just before the fire. "It was spilling out like Niagara Falls," said George Gray, 58, of Rensselaer, N.Y. "That's when we decided to run."
By daylight, the three tanks, each once 80 feet wide, were mounds of crumpled metal that looked as if they had been stepped on.
Texaco spokesman Tom Ingram said the terminal's 15 tanks supply service stations in New Jersey and New York. He said no damage estimate had been made.
Only two of the injured -- both Conrail workers -- were hospitalized. They were reported in stable condition.
Winchester Star Virginia 1983-12-06