New Castle, DE Chemical Plant Explosion, Oct 1980


New Castle, Del. (AP) -- More than 11 hours after an explosion ripped through a chemical plant here killing at least five and injuring 29, firemen gained control of a raging inferno ignited by the blast which had sent giant plumes of flame 100 feet into the air.
Officials said 500 to 1,000 residents were evacuated immediately after the explosion at the Amoco Chemical Corp. plastics plant.
The blast destroyed one building in the complex, reduced an adjacent building to a steel skeleton, blasted overhead doors inward on a third building and mangled pipelines running through the complex.
Buildings 12 miles away were rocked by the explosion. Doors were wrenched off nearby buildings, telephone service was disrupted and hundreds of windows were shattered in the explosion.
State Police Cpl. Barry Beck said the fire was finally brought under control at 5:40 a.m.
Beck said that police believed seven had been killed in the blast, but only five deaths had been confirmed by hospitals and the state medical examiner. He could not explain the discrepancy.
He and others feared that the death toll might rise once investigators and officials were able to comb through the wreckage. He said several workers had not yet been accounted for.
Fire Chief George Patterson said firefighters from Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey were called in to help immediately after the Tuesday night explosion occurred.
Beck said the residents were allowed back in their homes shortly after 7 a.m.
"I was sitting on the couch and it blew me off," said 25-year-old Jake Walker of the Dobbinsville section of New Castle.
Firefighters had worried the blaze would trigger a second explosion at six nearby tanksholding propylene, a volatile chemical used in manufacture of plastic pellets known as polypropylene.
By midnight, the fire was "stable" and no longer threatened the tanks, Patterson said.
Amoco officials were unsure how many workers were in the plant at the time and could not tell if all had been accounted for, said Kent Carson, a spokesman for the company.
The blast ripped out the plastic plant's main water supply, and as a result firefighters could not get water to the fire for nearly 45 minutes, Patterson said.
The cause of the blast had not been determined. Carson said Amoco "will begin an internal investigation as soon as the fire is extinguished."
There were huge traffic tieups after the blast, and sections of U.S. Route 13 and Route 273 were closed. Hundreds of motorists pulled off roads leading to New Castle to get a better view of flames and smoke billowing from the plant.
One Amoco worker who saw the blast from his car suffered a slight heart attack, a hospital spokesman said. The man, whose name was not released, was reported in good condition at Riverside Hospital in Wilmington.

The Daily Intelligencer Doylestown Pennsylvania 1980-10-22