Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Danger Lessens around Bobbing Propane Tanks

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Danger Lessens around Bobbing Propane Tanks

Article excerpt

Receding floodwater and a brisk breeze Monday lessened the fear of another fire - and a potentially devastating fireball - at an industrial area in south St. Louis where 51 tanks filled with propane bobbed on the water.

But the risk of an explosion lingered, preventing nearly 12,000 residents from returning to their homes after they were ordered out of the area earlier in the day.

"We have to make sure about the integrity of the system," said Fire Chief Neil J. Svetanics. "People are not going back until we feel it is safe, and I can't give an answer as to when that will be."

Police and the National Guard went door to door early Monday, evacuating everyone within a mile radius of the propane yard. At least 11,800 people in south St. Louis, Lemay in south St. Louis County and East Carondelet in Illinois were told to leave.

Although Svetanics said the imminent danger was reduced, he refused to say when these residents could go back home.

The hasty evacuation followed two fires that broke out Sunday night at the property owned by Phillips Petroleum Co. at 8722 South Broadway near the mouth of the River Des Peres.

Both fires were extinguished without injury, but Svetanics huddled with Phillips officials and determined the potential for disaster was great because of predictions the Mississippi River could hit 51 feet.

A crest of that level, backing up into the River Des Peres, could have torn more of the tanks loose and sent an explosive cloud of propane vapors over the city. One tank had already spewed out its entire 30,000 gallons of propane.

The tanks contained 1.5 million gallons of the highly inflammable gas.

"Propane is a nasty little devil that always finds an ignition source somewhere," Svetanics said. "You have a flash, and a huge fireball powerful enough to blow roofs off buildings and walls down in the immediate area."

The breeze and the receding floodwater were a double dose of good news, Svetanics said.

"We got a break with the wind, and we got a break with the river," he said. …

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