- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

NEW YORK, Feb. 21 (UPI) — At least one person was killed, one is missing, and another is hospitalized in critical condition after an explosion Friday at an ExxonMobil oil and gas storage facility on Staten Island, a police spokesman said.

FBI officials in Washington told United Press International that there was no indication of terrorism.

"The fire does not appear suspicious at this time, but the cause of the fire is being investigated," added detective Brian Sessa, a spokesman with the New York City Police Department.

The explosion occurred as a barge was offloading fuel at about 10:10 a.m. at Port Mobil on Southwest Staten Island, opposite New Jersey on the Arthur Kill river, and has been contained.

Staten Island is the home of many New York City firefighters and the home of the families of many firefighters lost as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Many feared the black smoke that leaped hundreds of feet into the air might have been another terrorist attack.

"About half of 4 million gallons of gasoline was being transferred from the barge to the storage tank when the explosion occurred … the fire is burning itself out," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters at a Staten Island news conference.

"All of the damage was confined to the barge and the very immediate vicinity, within yards," the mayor said.

The barge sank soon after the explosion. Bloomberg said environmental experts were unsure how much of the gasoline had burned and how much was still in the vessel.

In a statement, ExxonMobil said the plume of smoke from the fire has largely dissipated and should pose no significant health effect. Bloomberg said the city Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring air quality in the area.

The company said a contract firm, Clean Harbors, had been contacted to conduct an environmental cleanup once the fire has been completely extinguished.

Allison Rana, an ExxonMobil spokeswoman in Fairfax, Va., told UPI that the worker injured and taken to Staten Island University Hospital was an ExxonMobil employee. The two others involved in the accident were not, she said.

The barge involved in the accident was owned and operated by Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc. Based in Long Island, N.Y., the company said it was "concerned with the environmental impact of the explosion and has retained several companies to contain any spill of gasoline and mitigate any damage."

The U.S. Coast Guard is directing the cleanup efforts and has closed the river until further notice.

(Alex Cukan in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.)

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