BATAVIA, Ohio (AP) _ An explosion at a propane company seriously injured at least five people Friday, authorities said.

The blast shook Auxier Gas Company in this village about 20 miles east of Cincinnati and forced evacuations at 14 businesses. Smoke could be seen miles away.

``At first I thought it was a jet breaking the sound barrier,'' said Angela Sweet, who was working at a fast-food restaurant about a block away. ``All you could see was a great big ball of black smoke.''

As many as nine people were injured, said Karen Eichert, a spokeswoman for the Clermont County Emergency Management Agency. The most seriously injured were being taken by helicopter to University Hospital in Cincinnati, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Firefighters had the fire under control within two hours of the explosion, Ms. Eichert said.

The company, which has five buildings at the site, distributes propane to homes and businesses. There has been at least one explosion before at the plant, which on average stores 10,000 gallons of propane, said Miami Township Fire Chief Jim Whitworth.