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Tanker explodes, engulfing nearby buildings in Everett

Email|Print| Text size + By Megan Woolhouse
Globe Staff / December 5, 2007

A fiery river of gasoline from a crashed tanker truck ignited as many as 40 cars, causing them to explode and set three residential buildings on fire in Everett early this morning, police said.

According to initial reports from the scene, no one was injured. "I'm told the truck driver walked away,'' said Lieutenant Jim Gabriel of the Everett Police Department.

Residents from the buildings on Main Street and from a nearby 80-unit housing complex for the elderly were evacuated as firefighters battled to prevent the flames from spreading to the complex.

”They did a tremendous job keeping the fire out of that apartment building,’’ Everett Fire Chief David Butler said. “It could have been much worse.’’

Three hours after the gasoline tanker erupted at around 1 a.m., firefighters were still dousing the flames. In all, firefighters from 15 communities, including Boston, responded. All that remained of the tanker truck was a debris field of charred metal.

Groups of displaced residents of the buildings huddled along the sidewalks, many in sleepwear.

"We were lucky we got out," Sandra Howley, 28, said as tears rolled down her cheek. "I saw the flames hit the cars and they exploded one after the other."

Officials initially evacuated the residents of the buildings and the elderly residents to a school. But after determining that fuel had leaked into the sewer system nearby, authorities relocated the evacuees to the Everett armory.

When the first firefighters arrived, they encountered a hellish scene, officials said. The tanker truck was carrying nearly a full load of 10,000 gallons of gasoline, police said. After it crashed, the burning gasoline had traveled along the street gutters, igniting cars. The first firefighters said that when they approached the site, flames were shooting out of the buildings and cars, even sewer manholes.

The intense heat melted metal light poles.

Officials at the scene said it was too early to determine what caused the crash.

Main Street, which is also Route 99, was blocked off as firefighters and investigators completed their work.

It was unclear when the road, a key artery into Boston during the rush-hour morning commute, would be opened.

Butler urged motorists this morning to avoid all of Route 99 in Everett and Route 16 near Sweetzer Circle.

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