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Update: Firefighters still on scene of plant explosion; cause of blast under investigation

Update: Firefighters still on scene of plant explosion; cause of blast under investigation

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An explosion at a hydrogen fuel plant Tuesday morning in the western end of Catawba County damaged nearby homes and was felt miles away.

There were no serious injuries in the explosion at the OneH2 plant in Long View, according to Terri Byers, fire education coordinator for the Hickory Fire Department.

The 44 employees on duty at the plant were accounted for and safe following a blast that left a gaping hole in a wall at the business, according to reports from the scene.

Late Tuesday, firefighters were still putting water on portions of the building and were not inside.

Byers said Tuesday afternoon that crews on the scene were working to ensure the building was safe to go into. “They were getting ready to bleed off the tanks,” she said. “They want to be sure any chemicals inside aren’t heating up.”

Officials would not speculate on the cause of the explosion. Byers said she hoped the investigation would reveal what happened.

Amy McCauley, communications and marketing director for Catawba County, said they don’t know what the impact will be on the plant until an investigation is completed by fire officials.

Some nearby houses also sustained damage -- such as broken windows -- but no residents living in the vicinity of the explosion were reported injured.

The county press release listed approximately 60 surrounding homes as sustaining mostly minor damage from the explosion. They have all been inspected by Catawba County building inspectors and City of Hickory fire inspectors, according to the release.

Only one home has been deemed uninhabitable after experiencing structural damage, McCauley said. The owner is aware and is being assisted.

Affected homeowners are advised to contact their insurance company to begin the reporting process.

Johnathan Wilson lives on 20th Street NW near the plant. He said when the explosion occurred everything fell off the walls of his home and many of his dishes broke. Thankfully, he said he didn't have further damage to his home. "It shook the entire house from left to right," he said. "I've been in earthquakes before, and I thought it was an earthquake." Wilson said the police came by to find out if he had any damage and asked him to stay inside if he could.

Responders are monitoring air quality, the county release stated. Earlier, officials on the scene said emergency officials were monitoring the air in case there was a gas leak. The measure was viewed as precautionary but residents were asked to remain in their homes.

OneH2's website describes the business:

"We deliver hydrogen fuel that's ready for "immediate use" - already converted to high-pressure gaseous fuel that takes only minutes to dispense. Our system monitors your daily fuel usage through web-based telemetics to alert us when to schedule the next fuel delivery and trailer swapout."

Firefighters from Long View, Icard, Hickory and Mountain View departments all responded to the scene. Catawba County EMS also responded with Catawba County Emergency Management.

Long View Police, Hickory Police and Catawba County Sheriff's deputies were also on the scene.

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