TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) - A contract employee lost his life, another was burned. The federal government is now investigating Tuesday's explosion.
The DuPont Production Plant on River Road sits in a heavily-industrialized area of the northtowns, which led to many precautions in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's blast.
DuPont and public safety officials are stunned by this tragic accident, an accident that by most accounts should never have happened. The company and a contractor involved, both with spotless safety records, and an exploding storage tank that was supposed to be empty.
Shortly after 11 a.m. on Tuesday, workers from Mollenberg Specialty Contractors were welding supports on to a large free-standing tank outside of one of DuPont's building when the unthinkable happened.
Town of Tonawanda Police Lieutenant Nick Bado said, "During the course of the work, an explosion. The man working on it has died as a result of his injuries from the explosion."
Lt. Bado said the tank was empty, and company officials said it had been prepped for the workers.
"It's a tall cylindrical type object, and they were working on the top of it, which blew back," said Lt. Bado.
Federal safety officials confirm the tank was supposed to be empty at the time of the accident, but vinyl fluoride, a flammable compound, had been stored in the tank previously.
Arthur Dube of OSHA said, "The tank was originally supposed to be empty. It was emptied two weeks ago. There was probably a little bit of some unknown material left in the tank. Right now, it's unknown material. No one knows exactly what it is."
The explosion could be heard and felt for miles. Scott Ranney was deer hunting on Grand Island.
"I had just gotten out of the tree stand and was walking back to my truck when I just heard this big "ba-boom" and felt the ground shake. I'm like, something blew up," said Ranney.
Every emergency responder and fire crew nearby headed for the scene, but DuPont has its own emergency crew, which took control of the site first, deep inside the perimeter of the Yerkes Plant.
"That will uncover exactly what procedures were being followed, make sure everything was being done right, and this was just an accident. And really, at the end of the day, that's what I think is going to come out, that this was just a terrible accident," said Lt. Bado.
A second worker from Mollenberg Specialty Contractors was burned in the explosion. He was taken to ECMC, but his injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.
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