Fri, Nov 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Massachusetts factory explodes, destroying houses

CAUSE UNKNOWN The solvent-manufacturing plant blew up with such force that it could be heard 30km away, yet no one was killed


A chemical plant outside Boston blew up with a roar so thunderous that people thought it was an earthquake or a plane crash, destroying two dozen homes in the tightly packed neighborhood but causing only minor injuries.

The fiery blast flattened the CAI Inc factory, a manufacturer of solvents and inks, at around 3am on Wednesday, knocking buildings off their foundations, shredding roofs and shattering windows in neighboring Salem. The explosion could be heard more than 30km away.

"I was in bed and then next thing I knew, I was on my feet. I saw the flames and grabbed my clothes. My first thought was that an airplane crashed, but then I thought it was too early for that," said Paul O'Donnell, an aircraft mechanic.

Nearly 90 homes were damaged, with roughly 25 wrecked beyond repair, but only 10 of the more than 300 people believed to be in the neighborhood were hurt and their injuries were minor, authorities said. The plant was empty at the time.

"The miracle is you have the equivalent of a 2,000-pound bomb going off in a residential neighborhood at night when everybody is home, and no one's dead and no one is seriously injured," Governor Mitt Romney said.

Officials said it could take weeks to determine the cause of the explosion.

Most of the damaged homes were in view of the plant and some stood right across the street. The neighborhood is among the oldest in the city, dating to the 1700s, with a mixture of business and homes because it was settled before modern zoning rules.

Residents in the most severely affected areas would not be allowed back into their homes until at least today, Danvers Fire Chief James Tutko said at a press conference on Wednesday night.

Firefighters from 30 cities and towns battled the blaze.

In one condominium across the nearby Crane River, the blast was so strong it bowed a woman's bedroom windows, sucked her curtains out and then returned the unbroken glass and frames to their original position -- with the curtain tops attached to the rod inside but the curtain bottoms fluttering outside in the breeze.

"A lot of people never knew it was there, that's how benign they were," said a neighbor.

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