published Friday, May 16th, 2014

6 injured in explosion at Tennessee steel mill

Emergency personnel load a Gerdau steel mill employee into an ambulance after a blast furnace exploded at the Knoxville plant.
Emergency personnel load a Gerdau steel mill employee into an ambulance after a blast furnace exploded at the Knoxville plant.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Investigators on Friday tried to determine what caused an explosion at a Knoxville, Tennessee, steel mill that injured six workers and could be heard by residents from blocks away.

One worker was critically burned in the Thursday night explosion at Gerdau Ameristeel Mill, which uses an electric arc furnace to turn scrap metal into steel, in north Knoxville and was being treated at a regional burn center, the company said in a statement. Five others injured workers had been treated and released from a local hospital.

The names of the victims had not been released. Officials with the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration said they were still investigating the cause. It typically takes six to eight weeks to complete an investigation, TOSHA spokesman Jeff Hentschel said in an email.

"The company is committed to worker safety and is working with the proper authorities to determine the root cause of the incident," Gerdau Ameristeel's statement said.

For those who heard it, the blast at the mill was unnerving.

Ryan McClane told the Knoxville News Sentinel he was about a block away when he heard a loud blast and saw black smoke coming from the plant.

"I could feel it in my chest when it blew up," McClane said. "It sounded like a bomb going off. Nothing like I ever felt or heard in my life."

Shane Nichols told Knoxville station WATE-TV he also felt the explosion.

"It shook the whole house, I thought it busted some windows. I heard car alarms going off, so when I ran outside to my front porch I saw smoke blowing out of every end of the whole factory," he said.

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