Byline: Liz Trotta, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
NEW YORK - A barge offloading fuel at a Staten Island oil depot caught fire and exploded yesterday, belching thick columns of black smoke across the city and leading many to fear that a terrorist attack was under way.
Fire officials immediately dubbed the explosion an industrial accident, pending further investigation of the blaze that killed two barge workers. An ExxonMobil employee was hospitalized with second-degree burns and remains in serious condition.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rushed to the scene where he immediately squelched speculation of terrorist involvement, easing the fear of a nation on high alert for terrorism.
"There is absolutely no evidence or reason to think whatsoever that this is anything other than a very tragic industrial accident," he said at a press briefing.
He added that the new radios issued for the police and fire departments in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks worked "perfectly."
Mr. Bloomberg said many potential hazards are associated with loading and unloading fuel, including the buildup of static electricity, which can trigger an explosion.
The blaze erupted at 10:10 a.m. at the Port Mobil refinery farm near the Outerbridge Crossing bridge to New Jersey, about 16 miles southwest of Manhattan. Barge workers were offloading 4 million gallons of gasoline when the blast occurred about halfway through the process.
A ball of fire followed a thundering explosion that shook homes as far as two miles away. The noise and smoke stunned residents near the Arthur Kill, a waterway that separates Staten Island from New Jersey.
"The house just shook," said Nancy Rosado of Charleston, Staten Island, "I went to lock the door and it opened on its own. …