The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

April 25, 2013

Fire out hours after fuel barges explode in Mobile

— MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Firefighters on Thursday extinguished a huge blaze that erupted hours earlier when two fuel barges exploded in Mobile, Ala., leaving three people with critical burns and forcing the evacuation of crew from a nearby cruise ship.

The cause of the fire, which started Wednesday night, remained under investigation, but it was believed to be accidental, Mobile Fire-Rescue spokesman Steve Huffman said in a statement.

The blaze was extinguished early Thursday, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Vega.

Firefighters from Mobile and Coast Guard officials responded after 8:30 p.m. CDT Wednesday to a pair of explosions involving the gas barges in the Mobile River east of downtown. Additional explosions followed over the next few hours.

Authorities say three people were brought to University of South Alabama Medical Center for burn-related injuries. The three were in critical condition early Thursday, according to hospital nursing administrator Danny Whatley.

Across the river, the Carnival Triumph, the cruise ship that became disabled in the Gulf of Mexico last February before it was towed to Mobile's port, was evacuated, said Alan Waugh, who lives at the Fort Conde Inn in downtown Mobile, across the river from the scene of the explosions. Waugh saw the blasts and said throngs of Carnival employees and others were clustered on streets leading toward the river as authorities evacuated the shipyard.

"It literally sounded like bombs going off around. The sky just lit up in orange and red," he said, "We could smell something in the air, we didn't know if it was gas or smoke." Waugh said he could feel the heat from the explosion and when he came back inside, his partner noticed he had what appeared to be black soot on his face.

Carnival didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment late Wednesday.

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