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Explosions Rock Chemical Plant in Mich.

Associated Press | August 10, 2005
By JoANNE VIVIANO

ROMULUS, Mich. (AP) - A series of explosions rocked a Detroit-area chemical plant, causing a fire that sent plumes of black smoke into the air and prompting hundreds of residents to evacuate their homes.

Authorities said no injuries were reported, and no one was inside the plant when the fire started late Tuesday.

About a dozen people were treated at a hospital in neighboring Wayne for minor complaints, such as difficulty breathing, said hospital spokesman Tom Worobec. All were expected to be discharged by Wednesday morning, he said.

Romulus Public Safety Director Charles Kirby urged residents within a mile-radius of the fire to leave their homes and go to shelters. The area included about 1,000 homes in Wayne and another 150 in Romulus, officials said.

Andrew Crawford, 18, who lives within a few blocks of the explosion site, was one of about 300 Wayne residents who went to a shelter at the local high school.

``My backyard lit up orange,'' he said. ``It was like a bomb went off.''

Witnesses described a series of loud explosions at the E.Q. Resource Recovery Inc. plant that shook the ground and shot flames and smoke into the air. The company specializes in treating, recycling and disposing of hazardous material.

Dan Gilbert, a plant spokesman, told WXYZ-TV that plant employees were working outside in an area around the tanks just before the explosion and were evacuated after an emergency horn sounded. All were accounted for and none of them requested medical treatment, he said.

Romulus Mayor Alan Lambert said the intensity of the fire and uncertainty about the chemicals kept firefighting crews from getting too close. The fire didn't threaten any homes and there was no risk of it spreading, officials said.

The fire caused eight metal tanks containing acetone, a chemical used to clean machinery, to melt to half their original size, Kirby said. Fire officials expected that the chemical would burn out within eight hours, he said.

Hazardous materials officials had tested the air quality and found no danger present, Kirby said. But workers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were on their way to conduct more tests.

Romulus, about 25 miles southwest of Detroit, is home to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Mike Conway, a spokesman for the airport, said Wednesday morning that flights weren't affected by the fire.

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