Corbin, KY Insulation Factory Explosion, Feb 2003

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Corbin, Ky. - An explosion and fire at a Southern Kentucky insulation factory Thursday injured more than 20 workers, some critically, and sent hundreds of nearby residents fleeing from a plume of black smoke that rose into an overcast sky.
"I didn't know how bad it was until I got outside and saw the smoke and the fire," said Helen Rutherford, 48, who has worked at the plant for 29 years. "What I saw today, I never want to see again."
Workers at CTA Acoustics who escaped injury pulled severely burned colleagues from the building to await the arrival of ambulances. Authorities initially warned that the smoke may have contained hazardous chemicals, creating a panic among residents, before retracting the statement later in the day.
Residents were allowed to return to their homes about 5 p.m. after firefighters extinguished the blaze.
The cause of the 7:30 a.m. explosion was not known. Investigators from several state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, arrived on Thursday to begin investigations.
Jim Tomaw, legal counsel for CTA in Corbin, said the fire began near a furnace where raw fiberglass is mixed with resin and molded into sheets. He said 150 of the company's 561 employees were in the plant.
"It was just like a tornado came through," said Rutherford, of London. "A big puff of wind blew all my paperwork into the floor. It just got black. I heard like a muffled boom."
Then workers were told to leave the building.
Elizabeth Ash, a spokeswoman for Madison Heights, Mich. based CTA Acoustics said 26 employees were injured.
Some were burned over 70 to 90 percent of their bodies.
"We prepare as physicians for disasters - I have never seen this," said Dr. George Liu, a general surgeon at Baptist Regional Medical Center in Corbin.
"The best thing people can do is pray for these people."
The Corbin Hospital said it treated 30 victims. While 10 were treated and released, several in critical condition were transferred to burn centers at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington and Vanderbilt University
Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. Some victims had to travel to University Hospital in Louisville by ground ambulance because inclement, foggy weather prevented air transport.
Doctors at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington told WDKY-TV that they were treating five men ranging in ages from 30 to 55 for third-degree burns. Four of the men were in critical condition and one was in serious condition Thursday.