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2 Die in Fireworks Barge Explosion

January 1, 1999

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Fireworks and other missiles exploded in the staging area for a New Year’s Eve midnight celebration, killing two workmen and injuring a deputy sheriff.

The explosion occurred about 8:30 p.m. at a staging area near a barge on the Mississippi River, just upstream from New Orleans.

The blast involved as many as 200 shells and several hundred pounds of explosives, officials said.

Austin Banks, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said two men died. Their names were not made public, but officials said both worked for Classic Fireworks, the company handling the event.

An off-duty Jefferson Parish deputy sheriff, Sgt. Eddie Benoit, was in surgery late Thursday with second- and third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The cause of the explosion was not known. Banks said it happened as the fireworks were being unloaded from a truck to the barge.

New Orleans police had predicted about 100,000 people would jam the area at the Riverwalk shopping mall, in downtown New Orleans where the fireworks would be were to cap off a four-hour New Year’s celebration.

Leading up to the fireworks were open-air performances by the musical groups, The J Monque’D Blues Band, The Wild Magnolias, Ernie K. Doe and the Soul Rebels Brass Band.

The Riverwalk was the same shopping mall smashed by a freighter in December 1996. No one was killed in that incident, which damaged several stores.

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