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Dole Cannery evacuated after explosions touched off by chemicals in nearby lot

By Star-Advertiser Staff

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:40 p.m. HST, Sep 10, 2010


 

Scores of office workers were evacuated today from the Dole Cannery complex after a chemical reaction caused several explosions in a vacant lot next door in Iwilei. 

No one was injured in the explosions, one large and two smaller ones, that occurred at 616 Iwilei Road shortly before 1:30 p.m., said Honolulu fire Capt. Terry Seelig. 

A construction company, Weston Solutions, was preparing the soil by removing chemicals at the site when the explosion happened. 

Firefighters are cooling the area with streams of water. About six workers were at scene and were checked for injuries, Seelig said.

He said investigators don't know if the explosion, described as a fire ball, occurred because of pressure or it was ignited by the heat of the reaction. 

Police reopened the Dole complex about 4:30 p.m., reopened the roads about 5 p.m. 

Henry Konno waited until the building was reopened because he wasn't told he can go home. 

"It was kind of weIrd because after 1-something you just heard this kind of loud boom," he said. 

He thought it was the concrete wall of a building under construction that fell. 

He said he wasn't bothered by the delay thinking of the explosion in California yesterday. "Everybody needs to err on the side of safety," he said. 

By the time the building was reopened, the crowd of employees had already thinned from more than a hundred to a few dozen. 

Firefighters were escorting some employees inside to turn off electrical equipment that could become a fire hazard and employees of KSSK to keep their radio options running. 

The Dole Cannery complex at 650 Iwilei Road was evacuated shortly after 2 p.m. today because of smoke from an explosion from a nearby vacant site where chemicals were being removed from the soil.

State health spokeswoman Janet Okubo said Weston Solutions Inc. bought the site and in the process of cleaning up the contaminated area so that it may be used again. 

"In the process of cleaning up the site, something occurred," Okubo said.

Okubo said company officials are at the site and conducting an investigation.

The site was formerly used as part of a gas company refinery, she said.

"The site is very contaminated," Okubo said.

Weston Solutions, a multinational firm, lists its address as West Chester, Pa., according to the state business registration office. A police dispatcher confirmed that an evacuation is taking place at the structure but did not know the extent of the action.

Dale Machado, who works in the Dole Cannery building, said people were evacuated an hour ago following an explosion next door. 

"The building actually shook a little bit, and we looked out and saw black smoke coming from the vacant lot next door," said Machado, the chief engineer for radio station KSSK, which is headquartered in Dole Cannery.

The explosion was so loud employees inside the Home Depot building heard it.

Home Depot employee Keiki Watson said the explosion sounded like "somebody dropped something heavy."

Watson said the explosion came from the direction of an empty lot at Pacific Street and Iwilei Road.

"It looked like there was a fire in the area." 

An employee at the Dole Cannery Mini Mart, located on the ground level of the former pineapple cannery building, said police had just come in to tell him to evacuate.

Traffic on Pacific Street and Iwilei Road has been re-routed to Nimitz Highway, police said.

The theaters at the complex were open, and authorities opened the roads about 5 p.m.







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