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NY Oil Refinery Fire an Industrial Accident, says Mayor - 2003-02-21

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says a barge explosion at an oil depot on Staten Island was an industrial accident. Two people are missing and one is in critical condition.

An explosion followed by a fireball shook nearby houses shortly after 10 o'clock in the morning, and set off a three-alarm fire. Huge plumes of black smoke and flames reaching as high as 350 meters engulfed the tip of Staten Island, and winds carried the smoke across the water to the Wall Street financial district of Manhattan and to the shores of neighboring New Jersey.

Officials at the scene say the powerful explosion took place on a barge docked at an oil refinery pier. The barge, which was carrying more than 100,000 barrels of gasoline, was unloading fuel at a Staten Island storage depot owned by the Exxon Mobil Corporation. The company stores the gasoline there before it is sent by barge to points along the Northeastern seaboard of the United States.

The fire was confined to the water and an area immediately around the barge, before it burned itself out. Fire officials have yet to determine the cause of the blast, but Mayor Bloomberg told New Yorkers, who have been on high alert, there is no evidence of terrorism. "There is absolutely no evidence and no reason to think whatsoever that this is anything other than a very tragic industrial accident," he said. "Handling gasoline is a dangerous thing."

Still, FBI officials say the incident will be investigated, as oil facilities are considered prime terrorist targets.

The barge sank, and officials do not know how much gasoline is under water. Environmental agencies are on the scene monitoring air and water quality, but they say gasoline is far less damaging to the environment than crude oil.