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Hydrogen Leak Sparked Blast

A powerful blast at an electrical generating plant rocked the Tampa, Fla., area Thursday morning. Two workers were killed and 49 more were injured, fire officials said.

"I thought I was going to meet my maker or go to hell ... and it made me want to get right with God," said Robert Worley, a worker who escaped injury.

A hydrogen gas leak has been confirmed as the cause of the blast, which came at about 7:15 a.m. as contractors tested a generator that had been down for routine maintenance, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies reported. Hydrogen is used as a coolant for the generators.

The two men killed in the explosion have been identified as Johnny Bass, 52, of Jacksonville and Edward Barker, 57, of Tampa. Bass who worked for a contractor hired to do routine maintenance at the plant died instantly. Barker, a TECO maintenance mechanic, was pulled from the rubble with burns over most of his body and died later at an area hospital.

A total of 39 people were taken to area hospitals, said TECO spokesman Steve Jenkins. Four of the injured were critically burned.

The explosion tore a huge section from a building holding gas-fed generators at the Tampa Electric Co. plant at Port Sutton, on the edge of Tampa Bay southeast of downtown Tampa.

The blast also shut all six generating units at the coal-fired Gannon power plant and led the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council (FRCC) to issue a "power alert."

TECO, the parent company of Tampa Electric Co., said it did not know when the damaged plant would be back in operation.

The plant is just off U.S. 41 and across an arm of Tampa Bay from Tampa's port.

It is TECO's second-largest power plant and employs about 250 people, 190 of who were there at the time of the blast, TECO spokesman Mike Mahoney said.

No power interruptions to electrical customers were reported because of the explosion.

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