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Four dead in chemical plant explosion, officials say

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  • NEW: Fire Department spokesman: 14 have been taken to area hospitals
  • Firefighters still fighting hot spots Wednesday afternoon, official says
  • "It's a hellish inferno," he tells reporters
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JACKSONVILLE, Florida (CNN) -- Four people were killed and several injured after an explosion Wednesday at a chemical plant sent a thick plume of smoke over a section of Jacksonville, authorities said.

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A thick plume of smoke rises Wednesday at a chemical plant in Jacksonville, Florida.

"Literally, it's a hellish inferno. There is no other way to describe it," said Fire Department spokesman Tom Francis.

Fourteen people were hospitalized after the blast at the T2 Lab on Faye Road, in an industrial area on the waterfront in north Jacksonville, Francis said.

Officials initially ordered an evacuation of nearby businesses, but by 4 p.m. the order had been lifted after tests of the air found no toxicity, Francis said.

Firefighters were still battling hot spots, and the effort will be going on for "quite some time," he said. Video See an I-Report account about the blast »

Six of those injured were transported to Shands Hospital in Jacksonville, hospital spokeswoman Kelly Brockmeier said. A Shands official said the hospital incident command system had been activated -- something done to put the staff in high alert in anticipation of trauma patients.

A woman who answered the T2 Lab's 24-hour facility emergency phone said the plant manufactures ecotane, a gasoline additive that reduces tailpipe emissions, according to the laboratory's Web site. See a map of the site of the explosion »

The billowing black smoke could be seen from the city's downtown, said Florida Times-Union reporter Bridget Murphy. Murphy said she talked to several workers as they walked out of the area, and they were "shaken to the core."

"They described a hissing noise and then a sound wave," she said.

Antonio Padrigan was trying to get in touch with his son, who works in a plant in the area, but was having no luck reaching him on his cell phone.

"He was shook up when he called me, but I can't get through to him anymore," Padrigan said. "I don't know if he's in the hospital or what."

CNN I-Reporters Jonathan Payne and his son Calvin, 16, shot pictures of the explosion. They felt the blast shake their home, about 15 minutes away, and went to see what was going on.

Carlton Higginbotham, 63, was working at home on Townsend Boulevard in Jacksonville when a loud boom shook his house, he said.

"It was a gunshot-type explosion; it wasn't a rumble," he said.

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Higginbotham, an insurance salesman, and his neighbor ran outside and noticed thick smoke billowing from the other side of the St. Johns River, which separates his neighborhood from the site of the blast.

"The cloud that came out of it was white, some would say mushroom-shaped," Higginbotham said. "It was followed by dark, dark smoke." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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