Two fuel barges docked on the Mobile River in Alabama exploded yesterday, creating a fire so volatile that officials had to let it burn through the night. At least six explosions were reported and heard up to 20 miles away.
“We thought it was an earthquake or something,” Amber Hobbs, who was sitting down to dinner at the time of the blasts, told AL.com. “I have never felt anything like that.”
Firefighters said they responded to a pair of blasts reported after 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night, but many more explosions would follow.
Three workers who were readying the barges for reloading were severely burned, said Mobile Fire-Rescue spokesman Steve Huffman. They were in critical condition at the University of South Alabama Medical Center Thursday. Authorities have not reported any workers missing.
"It literally sounded like bombs going off around. The sky just lit up in orange and red," said Alan Waugh, who lives across the river from where the barges were docked. "We could smell something in the air, we didn't know if it was gas or smoke."
Waugh said he could feel heat from the explosions when he went outside.
Officials evacuated a nearby Carnival Cruise Ship, the Triumph, which made headlines earlier this year when it suffered a power outage in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard set up a one-mile safety zone around the barges and let them burn through the night.
Huffman said the fire, which appears to be an accident, is now out.
Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine owns the two barges. Spokesman Greg Beuerman said both barges were empty at the time of the blast. They had been docked for cleaning at the Oil Recovery Co. facility.
Beuerman said the barges carried a liquid call natural gasoline, which he explained is neither liquefied natural gas or natural gas.
U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Vega said Thursday that the cause of the explosions is still under investigation.