Investigators suspect backup of natural gas caused plant explosion at old Juice Bowl

Investigators believe a backup of natural gas caused the explosion of a 60,000-pound boiler tank Tuesday at a bottling plant in Lakeland.
 
The explosion happened just before 8 a.m. at Whitlock Packaging Corporation.
 
It sent the massive tank flying through a brick wall, which landed on railroad tracks right outside the plant.
 
Debris and pieces of mangled metal also shot out of the building and flew across U.S. 98 during a busy morning commute.
 
"All the exterior pipes were just rattling and shaking really bad and steam was coming out, and then all of a sudden it all just shot out," said Christine Hobbs, who was on her way to work. 
 
Some pieces of debris scratched Hobbs' car, but she said it could have been a lot worse.
 
"It was definitely a blessing that we were not injured," she said.
 
Late Tuesday, salvage crews began the clean-up process, carefully using a crane to raise the mammoth, punctured tank off the CSX rail track.
 
"It would have been catastrophic if anyone was in the area or even near the area," said Bart Lews, head of human resources at Whitlock.
 
Officials tell ABC Action News that 90 employees were inside at the time, but nobody was hurt.
 
Whitlock took over the plant from Tropicana about a decade ago. It uses steam to bottle nationally known juices and teas.
 
The employees were sent home after the incident. 
 
Officials are waiting on an assessment by a structural engineer before they can decide on the next step.
 
There's no word yet on when the company will reopen.

 

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