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Early Morning Explosion Rocks Danvers

A chemical plant exploded early Wednesday, sending a concussion miles away that people mistook for an earthquake or a plane crash, shooting flames high in the air. Several homes and businesses were heavily damaged, but officials reported only minor injuries.

The explosion occurred at CAI Inc. just before 3 a.m. in the Danversport area, about 20 miles north of Boston. About 10 people were injured, but none was in serious condition, Danvers Fire Chief James P. Tutko said.

"I was in bed and then next thing I knew, I was on my feet,'' said Paul O'Donnell, 44. "I saw the flames and grabbed my clothes. My first thought was that an airplane crashed, but then I thought it was too early for that.''

Fred Grenier, 25, was asleep in a rear, second-floor bedroom on nearby Bates Street when the explosion awakened him and his girlfriend, Trisha Lynch, 22. Their house is about 200 yards from CAI Inc.

"The windows came caving in. The AC fell right on me,'' he said.

His girlfriend's sister, Jennifer Lynch, was asleep in a bedroom that faced the plant and needed stitches for cuts on her face, Grenier said.

"There were windows gone, doors gone, vinyl siding off the houses,'' Grenier said, describing the scene when he went outside. Electricity also was knocked out throughout the area.

"Everyone was out in the street making sure everybody's all right,'' he said. "When you went out on the front porch, you could feel the heat.''

Nancy Chick, who lives in a second-floor condominium across the Crane River, said she was knocked out of bed and saw flames out her bedroom windows.

The shock was so strong it bowed her windows inward and sucked her curtains halfway out before the windows returned to their normal position in the frames. Afterward, the curtains hung from their rod at the top and flapped outside her window _ even though it was closed.

"I never saw anything like it,'' said Chick, 66, a resident of the Harborview Condominiums. "All the pressure must have blown it in and then sucked it out.''

State Police Maj. Kevin Kelly, who responded to the scene, said he felt the explosion at his home 21 miles away. Other neighbors mistook it for an earthquake, while one caller to WBZ-AM said he looked out his window and saw "the picture of London during the blitz _ that silhouette.''

The fire was contained by 6 a.m. and firefighters planned to let the flames burn themselves out, Tutko said. While CAI Inc. makes solvents and inks, he said there was no risk of toxic fumes escaping into the air although some of the homes in the area are unlivable.

Mike Nalipinski, on-scene coordinator for Environmental Protection Agency, said preliminary tests showed low levels of toluene, a solvent, but nothing of significance.

Runoff from water used by fire fighters left a purple sheen on the nearby river, and water tests were being conducted, but Nalipinski said it was not a drinking water supply and the chemical evaporates quickly.

The fire chief said it was too early to speculate on the cause. He said he heard and felt the explosion at his home five miles away and thought it was thunder.

Town officials canceled school for the day, the last day of classes scheduled before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Red Cross established a relief center at Danvers High School, which immediately filled without 100 elderly and disabled residents of the New England Home for the Deaf.

Volunteers and nurses attended to them _ many still in their johnnies or pajamas _ as they sat in a gymnasium and huddled under blankets. The school cafeteria opened to prepare breakfast.

There is an Eastern Propane facility close to the CAI facility, but that was not the cause of the explosion, said company spokesman Jeff Taylor. He said all the company's tanks are secure, although the property suffered some minor damage.

This program aired on November 22, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.

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