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Cause of Ind. Plant Blast Unknown

July 29, 1998

HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) _ When contractor Harold Sills looked up, all he saw were flames shooting across the Southern Energy Co. power plant.

Putting scaffolding in front of his face, he bolted outside with the 100 other people working inside. He and his crew of 12 made it out OK.

Seventeen others were injured, four critically, in two explosions and a transformer fire that erupted at the plant on the Indiana-Illinois state line just before 8 a.m. Tuesday.

``Oh yeah, we were lucky,″ said Sills, whose face was blackened by soot and whose goatee was singed. ``We could have been well-done.″

Of the four most seriously hurt, two were burned over 60 percent of their bodies and the others over a third.

The explosions and ensuing fire at the coal-fired generating plant that supplies power to Chicago sent plumes of black smoke into the air along Lake Michigan.

Investigators found electrical problems near the blasts but were unsure whether they sparked the explosion or if the explosion caused the electrical problems.

``That’s the chicken or the egg,″ said Jim Walsko, Hammond’s chief fire inspector.

The explosions caused lights to flicker across Chicago as backup systems kicked in. About 25 industrial customers on the city’s south side also were without power for about 30 minutes after the explosions, said Commonwealth Edison spokeswoman Jennifer Kennefick.

Mike Tyndall, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based Southern Co., parent of Southern Energy, which bought the plant from ComEd in December, said the plant is undergoing a $65 million upgrade. The plant is operated by State Line Energy, a subsidiary of Southern Energy.

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