Middletown police say a massive explosion was reported at about 11:30 a.m. at the Kleen Energy plant under construction on River Road.
The impact of the explosion was felt miles away, including in East Haddam/East Hampton, local residents say.
TV news reports are claiming that at least five people have been killed.
A local witness also says the area was leveled by the explosion.
The Hartford Courant reports that a witness said the explosion may be related to a test of the plant’s power generating systems.
Fire and emergency crews from several surrounding towns are now at the scene.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
The plant was being built by High Steel Structures, Inc. and was scheduled to be operational in June 2010. [Correction, Feb. 8: High Steel is not the General Contractor, O&G Industries is... High Steel Structures served as a subcontractor supplying some of the large components of steel for the outer shell of part of the building, but did not have a role in erecting the building or in making or testing any of the components of the actual power-generating equipment. Also see comment accompany this story.]
Calls to the general manager/power plant management services and the High Steel Structures Inc. company have not yet been returned.
As of 5 p.m. not much more is known about the cause of the explosion or the exact number of injured or killed. It is currently estimated 26 people were injured at the site and at least two people were killed. [As of Feb. 8, officials reported 5 people were killed.]
Spectators who watched emergency crews working at the scene from a safe distance, across the Connecticut River, said they first felt the “shockwave” of the explosion and then listened on police scanners to find out what caused it.
One resident, who asked his name not be published said, “I live down the road and my stepson was looking out the back window and he said he saw a fireball and an explosion. I was in the house and it shook the house and knocked stuff off the shelves.”
“He said he saw the fireball and the shockwave come… and there was smoke to the left of the smokestacks up there. And then it died back, and it turned black… and then the emergency stuff started showing. Everything this side is OK, this side of the river things are OK,” he said.
He added, “I heard they were running a test because they were supposed to come online in June, so they had a crew up there that was running some sort of a test.”
Another resident, Rich Rapp, said the impact of the explosion made it seem his house was collapsing.
“I’m about a mile away from the facility on Freeman Road, the backside of River Road. The impact was incredible, you know. It felt like the side of my house was coming in. And it sounded like a gas explosion, right away,” he said.
“I called my neighbor, Bruce, he’s got a [police] scanner. And he told me the energy plant just let go, they had a big explosion up there,” Rapp said.
A Meriden resident, Lisa Halpin, said the reverberations from the blast also were felt in her neighborhood.
“I live in Meriden and I felt the explosion. I thought there was something wrong in the basement of my house. Stuff was shaking. I actually turned on my scanner and found out it was out here,” she said.
“My next door neighbor’s daughter was driving down the street, and she and the person driving with her even felt it as they were going down the road in their car. They didn’t know what it was,” Halpin said.
Another onlooker said she was trying to find out what happened from a former co-worker at NRG, and that other co-workers may have been at the Kleen Energy plant working at the time of the explosion.
“I was laid off a year ago January, and others were as well, from NRG and a lot of the guys came over here,” said Susan Bongiorno. “I just called one of the guys I worked with who is still with NRG to see if he heard anything – he’s going to make a few phone calls, he’s in Massachusetts.”
She added, “there was a lot of controversy when this plant was first going up, I don’t know much about it – it was political – but when we heard there were going to be some layoffs [at NRG] several of the people who worked with NRG contemplated coming here.”
“This is just God awful,” she said.
At 5:30 p.m., Middletown Mayor Sebastian Guiliano said search and rescue efforts are underway for workers who may have been trapped when a gas explosion caused a major wall to collapse.
He confirmed that at least two people have died. While news reports have estimated more than 200 were injured, Guiliano said about 12 people were injured. He also said neighboring homes are not in danger.
He said he is unable to say how many workers were at the plant at the time of the explosion because several contractors were at the site, including O & G Industries, Ducci Electrical Contractors and Keystone Mechanical Electrical, according to the plant’s General Manager Gordon Holk.
The Red Cross also has set up a crisis site at City Hall in Meriden, and families of the workers can call a hotline at 860-347-2577.
Posted 11:57 a.m. Feb. 7, 2010 in East Haddam Today and East Hampton Today – updated at 5 p.m. and at 7:11 p.m.
HTNP.com staff contributed to this story
Related link: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2006/rpt/2006-R-0331.htm