Major explosions at a US propane plant caused multiple deaths and injuries and forced residents more than a mile away to evacuate, officials said.
At least 15 people were unaccounted for following the series of blasts and immense fire at the Blue Rhino propane-tank business in Tavares, Florida, Tavares City Administrator John Drury told the Orlando Sentinel.
A witness told WFTV-TV traffic was gridlocked as residents tried to evacuate.
More than 200 firefighters fought the inferno, hoping to control the blaze before anyone could get close to plant, officials said.
Police said flames reached 150 feet into the air. A number of residences and a nearby lumberyard also caught fire, emergency radio transmissions monitored by United Press International indicated.
The explosions, which could be felt for more than 5 miles, started shortly before 11 p.m. Monday and continued for more than a half-hour, residents told the Sentinel and WFTV. The blasts began again around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday in tractor-trailers loaded with pallets of propane tanks.
“More than 500 tons of propane was on the site,” a county spokesperson said.
Five medical helicopters took patients to hospitals in five cities, emergency radio transmissions indicated.
A number of people were taken by ambulance with second- and third-degree burns, the transmissions monitored by UPI indicated.
The Lake County Medical Examiner was also notified.
Twenty-four people were working the night shift Blue Rhino, owned by Ferrellgas Partners of Overland Park, Kan., the No. 2 U.S. propane distributor.
Propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gas, is a byproduct of natural gas processing and petroleum refining. It is commonly used as a fuel for engines, torches, barbecues, portable stoves and residential central heating.