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Morning News

Massive Propane Explosion Results in Only Minor Injuries in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Aired January 8, 2001 - 11:49 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: When you see the next pictures you will understand why police in New Mexico say it was simply sheer luck that no one was killed in this massive propane tank explosion, it took place last night. State police say that a parked pickup truck rolled across the street from a gas station. It hit an 18,000 gallon propane tank, and that touched off an explosion that ignited a three-block area. Seventeen people did suffer minor injuries.

On the phone with us to tell us more is Frances Baird, a reporter for KCHS Radio.

Frances, what you can add?

FRANCES BAIRD, KCHS RADIO REPORTER: It was tremendous. I was about a block away when the second explosion occurred, I was knocked into my car, there were people next to me that were knocked to the ground. It was just absolutely tremendous.

KAGAN: So at the time that it happened, what did you think it was?

BAIRD: I was at my house when the first explosion went off, and I thought someone was knocking at the door. I ran outside to see what it was, and then I saw the flames from my house, which is about 10 blocks away.

KAGAN: So there are houses that close to this facility. What is this facility with the propane tanks?

BAIRD: It is Cortez Gas, it is a local propane dealership, and right across the street from it is a convenience store with four gas pumps.

KAGAN: And this sounds just kind of like a freak accident, someone's pickup truck rolls into these tanks; how is that possible?

BAIRD: It was an employee's car at the Domino's Pizza, which is inside the convenience store. It just rolled out of the parking lot, across the two-lane street, and through the picket fence -- well, not picket -- the chain-link fence, and rolled right into a pressure valve, that lead to the 18,000 gallon tank.

KAGAN: So, I mean, there is a fence around the tank, but it was open.

BAIRD: No, it is a chain-link fence, and it had been closed, but I truck picked up speed...

KAGAN: Wasn't strong enough to stop the truck.

BAIRD: ... going down the hill and just rolled right through the fence.

KAGAN: Wow, and as we mentioned about 17 people, minor injuries, but incredible that nobody was killed in this.

BAIRD: Yes, they have all been released from the hospital and are doing fine right now.

KAGAN: Incredible pictures we are looking at right now are from last night. What does it look like today?

BAIRD: Like a bomb went off. It is all burnt, it's black. The state police are currently investigating the scene a little bit closer, making sure that everyone is OK, that everything is fine. It's just burnt and black.

KAGAN: The flames are out.

BAIRD: Yes, all the flames are out, there's smoldering that is going on that they are trying to deal with right now.

KAGAN: Was that the kind of thing last night, where they just had to let it burn.

BAIRD: Basically, they had to wait and let the majority of the propane burn, and then, until they could get close enough, when it was safe.

KAGAN: Have you heard any comments from the company that owns the propane tanks?

BAIRD: I talked to the manager of the propane company. He stated that he had been asking his company for about the past year to move the tanks because he was afraid something like this was going to happen. He said that, while it is expected that the company will rebuild and will come back to the area, they will not be doing it there.

KAGAN: This is in Truth or Consequences, which is a small town.

BAIRD: Yes, we have about 10,000 people here.

KAGAN: Is this a case, though, that like a lot of communities around the country that it has grown, and maybe when these propane tanks were put in, it was kind of farther away from stuff...

BAIRD: Actually, the area that the propane tanks were in hasn't really grown that much from when the propane tanks were installed in the area. It was -- the item went before the city commission when they did ask for -- ask to put the business there, and the commission's concern was that something like this would happen, and that it would explode, and set the whole town on fire.

KAGAN: Well, thank goodness that didn't happen, and, as we mentioned, only minor injuries, and everybody is doing OK. Francis Baird, from KCHS Radio, thank you for giving us more information on what happened in Truth or Consequences.

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