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Pa. Factory Explosion Kills One

February 3, 1998

YORK, Pa. (AP) _ Welder William Dill remembers how he was thrown across the room by a massive explosion that hurled metal chunks a mile away. A co-worker, Dennis Wolfe, remembers the screams.

One worker was killed in Monday night’s explosion at the York International Corp. plant, said Robert Straw, director of the York County emergency services agency. Early reports said there were two deaths.

Rescue crews combed through the rubble early today, but everyone was accounted for. Several hundred workers had been inside when the blast came during the 11:30 p.m. shift change.

In the mayhem, dozens of dazed and injured workers struggled to get out of a collapsed building while the rest fled.

The factory makes refrigeration, heating and air conditioning units, and witnesses said a vapor plume above the plant was burning the eyes and throats of people nearby. Emergency services spokesman Patrick McFadden said no toxic substances were released.

The blast was felt 25 miles away.

``The only thing I can tell you is it was a massive explosion in the weld shop,″ said Dill, who wore a neck brace as he left the emergency room at York Hospital hours later.

``It just blew us the hell across the room. We heard guys screaming,″ added Wolfe, who was also working in the area where the explosion happened. ``It rolled us across the floor ... It knocked down the walls. The ceiling lights fell out.″

Other workers said the explosion was in a building where Freon tanks are stored. The chemical is used in air conditioning units.

There was an initial loud boom, followed by a smaller blast. Large metal chunks of debris littered residential streets 12 blocks away.

``There was a big, blue flash in the sky. It shook my apartment. The sky was lit up blue,″ said Pete Miller, who lives four blocks from the plant.

Authorities learned of the blast after a fire alarm went off at York College, about a mile from the site. Dorms at the school were evacuated for about 30 minutes after the blast, when the power went out.

About 20 people were treated for burns and respiratory problems at hospitals in this city 115 miles west of Philadelphia.

York International was No. 419 on the Fortune 500 list last year, with $3.219 billion in 1996 sales. The company employs about 2,000 people in York and 21,000 worldwide.

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