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Power Plant Blast Kills 1, Hurt 49

April 8, 1999

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ A powerful blast rocked an electrical generating plant this morning, killing two workers and injuring 49 people, including three critically.

The explosion, heard miles away, tore a huge section from a building at the Tampa Electric Co. power plant at Port Sutton, on the edge of Tampa Bay southeast of downtown Tampa.

``I thought I was going to meet my maker or go to hell ... and it made me want to get right with God,″ said Robert Worley, a worker who escaped injury.

Debris filled a yard at the plant outside of the hole.

The blast came as a generator was being tested following routine maintenance, and a hydrogen gas leak was suspected, authorities said. Hydrogen gas is used as a coolant at the coal-fired plant.

Ten of the injured were treated at the scene and 39 were taken to hospitals. Three were in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital.

The 7:15 a.m. blast killed Johnny Bass, 52, of Jacksonville, officials said. Bass worked for Power Plant Maintenance of Jacksonville, a contractor hired to give the unit its spring tune-up, TECO officials said.

Sheriff’s deputies said Bass’s body was pulled from beneath debris of the wall that was blown out in the blast.

Another worker who suffered serious burns died later at Tampa General Hospital, said spokeswoman Stacey Packer. His identity wasn’t immediately released.

Many of the other injured were treated for lacerations and smoke inhalation.

The plant is about two miles southeast of downtown Tampa, across an arm of Tampa Bay from Tampa’s port.

It is TECO’s second-largest power plant and employs about 250 people. No power interruptions to electrical customers were reported. TECO supplies power for 500,000 customers in a three-county area of west-central Florida.

Update hourly