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Last updated October 6, 2007 8:05 p.m. PT

Foundry explosion rocks Tacoma, Wash.


  Flames rise after an explosion sent a ball of fire over the historic Atlas Foundry in Tacoma, Wash. on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007. The fire department said injuries were possible in the explosion and surrounding businesses were evacuated as a precaution. The explosion was heard at least two miles away. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

TACOMA, Wash. -- An explosion heard miles away sent a ball of fire over a historic foundry Saturday afternoon, shutting down a major highway, cutting power to the city's industrial area and critically injuring a truck driver.

Four people were taken to a hospital - the driver of a propane truck and three employees of the Atlas Foundry - after two propane tanks exploded around 3 p.m., The News Tribune of Tacoma reported.

Firefighters had the blaze under control by Saturday evening, Deputy Fire Marshal Kevin O'Donnal said. The eastbound lanes of State Route 16 remained closed as state officials waited to send bridge inspectors to check a nearby overpass.

An electrical substation was damaged, knocking out power to about 13,000 Tacoma Power customers, said utility spokeswoman Chris Gleason.

The truck driver was in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, spokeswoman Susan Gregg-Hanson said. The three other men were in stable condition at a Tacoma hospital.

Foundry Safety Director Evid Owen told The News Tribune he thinks a propane tank exploded while it was being filled.

Foundry neighbor Carvedia Martin said she thought the first blast was an earthquake, so she ran outside, then saw the smoke and flames and covered her face against the heat.

"The cloud was so intense, you know, it looked like the bomb at Hiroshima," Martin said. "As I stood, the flames just rolled straight up in the air - the gas and the fire. That's when I turned and ran."

The foundry, which traces its history to 1899 when the company made iron castings for the logging industry, now supplies industries from shipbuilding to offshore oil drilling.

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