At 11:17 a.m. on Sunday morning, the nearly completed Kleen Energy power plant on the Connecticut River just miles from campus exploded, killing five and wounding at least 26. According to Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, all workers that were assigned to be at the plant on Sunday have now been accounted for, although some areas of the site have yet to be searched.
On Sunday night, Deputy Fire Marshal Al Santostefano said that no workers were currently known to be missing, but that the search would continue. The search was halted early Monday morning, however, due to high winds.
“The blast site remains unstable due to unsafe conditions of the building,” Giuliano said. “Recovery efforts will resume once officials can assure the safety of those who must enter the building.”
Police identified five workers who were killed by the explosion as Peter Chetulis of Thomaston, Ronald J. Crabb of Colchester, Raymond Dobratz of Old Saybrook, Roy Rushton of Ontario, Canada, and Chris Walters of Missouri.
Through the explosion was reported to have been the result of a gas leak, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced Monday that she is establishing two panels of state agencies—one that will try to determine the specific causes of the explosion, and one to investigate whether any state laws or regulations should be amended in the wake of Sunday’s events.
“They will be looking for any potential contributing factors, things like construction problems, worker safety issues, licensing or permitting matters,” she said. “That’s not to say they existed, but they need to look at all things.
Additionally, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has sent a team of investigators to the site of the explosion.
“The CSB’s investigative team will examine the activities that were ongoing at the time of this accident, including any gas purging, as indicated by initial media reports,” said CSB Supervisory Investigator Don Holmstrom.
Giuliano said that there is no hazard of toxic substances in the air in the wake of the explosion.
The Kleen Energy Systems, LLC, a natural gas plant owned by private-equity firm Energy Investors Funds, was 95 percent complete and on track to providing electricity starting this summer.
Students across campus felt the blast on Sunday morning.
“I thought it was a gust of wind because my housemate’s door slammed at the same time, but I it was weird because it didn’t seem windy outside,” said Susie Howe ’11. “Later I found out that my housemate’s door slammed from the shockwave.”
Across the river from the power plant, many houses in the town of Portland suffered damage. State Representative Jim O’Rourke, state Senator Eileen Daily, and Portland First Selectman Susan Bransfield are helping residents assess the damage.
“That neighborhood is probably the closest residential area to the power plant,” O’Rourke said “One lady told me that her dog was actually blown against a house by gas. She said that her whole house shook and she knew there was something totally wrong. Some of the houses were damaged—some windows broken, some cracks in walls, foundations, pools. We’re going over there to assure that [the homeowners’] rights are going to be protected.”
An all-campus e-mail sent by Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley at 1:50 p.m. on Sunday alerted students to the explosion.
“[T]here has been no reported damage in the vicinity of the campus and there is no danger to the campus community,” he wrote. “University officials have been in touch with local authorities to offer assistance if Wesleyan resources can be helpful in responding to the incident.”
The mayor’s office has established a victim’s family fund. Families of Kleen Energy Tragedy, c/o MiddConn Federal Credit Union, 213 Court St., Middletown, CT 06457. Telephone: (860) 638-5360.
A group of students met Monday night to discuss ways to get the campus involved. They are in the process of contacting Union 777 of Plumbers and Pipefitters to set up opportunities for volunteers if families of victims need help with chores such as grocery shopping or babysitting. They also plan to set up a direct online donation to the victim’s family fund through Wesleyan.
“We’re trying to figure out what’s needed and what we can do for our neighbors,” said Micah Weiss ’10, on of the students at the meeting.
To get involved with the student response to the explosion, contact Kleenenergyresponse@gmail.com.