MOBILE, Ala. —
A large fire that began with explosions aboard two fuel barges in Mobile, Ala., burned into Thursday morning after injuring three people.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Vega said shortly before dawn Thursday.
Firefighters from Mobile and Coast Guard officials responded after 8:30 p.m. CDT Wednesday to a pair of explosions involving the gas barges in an area of the Mobile River east of downtown, authorities said. Additional explosions followed over the next few hours.
Authorities say three people were brought to University of South Alabama Medical Center after suffering burn-related injuries. The three were in critical condition early Thursday, according to hospital nursing administrator Danny Whatley.
Across the river, the Carnival Triumph, the cruise ship that became disabled in the Gulf of Mexico last February before it was towed to Mobile’s port, was evacuated, said Alan Waugh, who lives at the Fort Conde Inn in downtown Mobile, across the river from the scene of the explosions. Waugh saw the blasts and said throngs of Carnival employees and others were clustered on streets leading toward the river as authorities evacuated the shipyard.
“It literally sounded like bombs going off around. The sky just lit up in orange and red,” he said, “We could smell something in the air, we didn’t know if it was gas or smoke.” Waugh said he could feel the heat from the explosion and when he came back inside, his partner noticed he had what appeared to be black soot on his face.
Video from WALA-TV (http://bit.ly/15NEYJl) showed flames engulfing a large section of the barge, and a video that a bystander sent to AL.com (http://bit.ly/13vWz4G) showed the fiery explosions and billowing smoke over the river.
The initial blast took place in a ship channel near the George C. Wallace Tunnel — which carries traffic from Interstate 10 under the Mobile River, Vega said. The river runs south past Mobile and into Mobile Bay, which in turn flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
The tunnels were still open and operating overnight, Mobile fire officials said in a statement.
As daybreak approached, the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department’s fireboat Phoenix was moving toward the barges, checking to make sure their mooring lines were secured, the fire department said in a statement.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, Huffman and Vega said.
“Once (the fire) is out and safe, a full investigation will take place,” Huffman wrote.
Mobile Fire Chief Steve Dean told AL.com he was confident the fire wouldn’t spread to nearby industrial properties, including the shipyard where the Carnival cruise ship is docked.