KY explosion forces evacuation

Powerful blast breaks windows blocks away

BY TRAVIS DUNN | LOUISVILLE | April 11, 2003


Nearby residents were allowed to return to their homes, Friday morning while authorities continued to search for a missing worker after a large explosion ripped apart a caramel coloring factory here about 2 AM.

Five employees were at work in the plant when the explosion occurred, said Brad Learn, assistant director of the Louisville Metro Emergency Management Agency. Four of those workers managed to escaped without injury. Search crews went through the rubble Friday, trying to find the missing worker.

The explosion also ruptured a 40,000-lbs. ammonia tank, and a two-block radius around the plant was evacuated until about 7 a.m. because of leaking fumes. Learn said emergency officials had no choice but to let the tank empty itself, since "there was no valving or anything left for us to shut off."

The blast was powerful enough to knock down a five-story section of the building, and to break windows at a fire station four blocks away. An apartment building located next to the plant incurred minor damage from the explosion.

Christine Choi, a waitress at the Grape Leaf restaurant, who lives a few blocks from the plant, said she awoke to a loud sound in middle of the night.

"I didn't know what it was I just heard alarms going off," she said.

Learn said the explosion was caused by "a vessel that over-pressurized for some reason."

At least two other hazardous chemicals, sulfur dioxide and caustic soda, were also present at the plant, although they were not released by the explosion, Learn said. Company managers were working Friday to shut down the rest of the factory.

The owner of the plant, D.D. Williamson Co. Inc., is one of the largest manufacturers of caramel coloring in the world.


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