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Waikele explosives removal will last until Saturday

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 10:29 p.m. HST, Apr 21, 2011

Photos: Agencies dispose of explosives from Waikele bunker

Officials with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives say it will likely take until Saturday to remove the remaining explosives in an underground storage bunker in Waikele where five men were killed from a fireworks explosion on April 8.

ATF and the Honolulu Fire Department issued a joint statement on the situation today. They said no determination can be made on the cause or origin of the explosion until the removal is complete.

The two agencies are among several investigating the explosion. Others include the federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the federal and state offices of Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

A team of about seven federal bomb and explosives specialists began removal of the explosives on Monday and had expected to finish today.

But “it’s taking a little bit longer than we anticipated,” ATF spokesman Joe Green said, noting the complexity and potential for danger of the procedure.

“We want to ensure that the hazards are removed and properly disposed of and make a safe work environment for bomb technicians and arson cause and origin experts to condut a complete and thorough investigation,” said Jordan Lowe, resident agent in charge for ATF’s Hawaii office.

The remaining aerials in the tunnel are being transported to an undisclosed location where they are being disposed.

Honolulu fire Capt. Terry Seelig said the situation posed “without a doubt ... one of the most difficult investigations that the HFD has done.”

There’s not guarantee that investigators will be able to come to a “definitive cause” for the explosion, Seelig said. “But we can devote considerable resources as we owe the families of those who were fatally injured our best efforts.”

The five men killed were employees of Donaldson Enterprises, an ordnance and fireworks disposal company with a federal contract to destroy fireworks. An investigator said last week said company officials indicated the men were in the process of dismantling the fireworks in preparation for disposal.

Federal rules, however, bar anyone with an explosives or fireworks license from processing such materials where they are stored.

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