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A massive explosion that rocked homes in three states...

By JACQUES CLAFIN

NEWARK, N.J. -- A massive explosion that rocked homes in three states ripped through three fuel storage tanks holding 3.3 millions of gasoline today, setting a raging fire, killing one man and smashing surrounding buildings, officials said.

At least 21 people were injured in the 12:15 a.m. blast at the Doremus Avenue Texaco storage facility in Port Newark, and officials said they were checking reports one man may be missing.

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The Texaco facility, with a total of 15 tanks capable of holding 29 million gallons of fuel, is near both Newark Airport and the heavily traveled New Jersey Turnpike, but the blast and fierce four-alarm fire did not force officials to halt airline or highway traffic.

A fourth, smaller tank was ruptured by the blast and in danger of going up, but firefighters poured water on it and prevent it from catching fire, officials said.

Pipelines feeding the fuel distribution facility were shut down in Elizabeth, about 5 miles away.

The tanks were still burning 12 hours after the explosion sent orange flames hundreds of feet into the sky and spewed dark acrid smoke over a wide area.

'When the fire companies first arrived on the scene, the flames were very, very intense,' Caufield said. 'We have it (the fire) contained, but I'm not sure, even if we tried, if we could put it out.'

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Caulfied and Texaco spokesman Tob Ingram said officials expected the fire to burn itself out by tonight.

Caulfield said investigators did not suspect foul play.

Newark Fire Director John Caufield said a survivor reported that just before the tanks went up, a smaller explosion occurred at the nearby Central Steel Drum Co. plant.

The survivor, Phil Heisse, told authorities he and a Texaco co-worker, William Van Zile, saw two 55-gallon drums flying 300 yards in the air towards one of the fuel tanks, Caulfield said.

The two men, who had just finished their shifts, started running when a huge blast ripped through the three tanks holding about 3.3 millions of gasoline 2,500 feet away, Caufield said.

Van Zile, 40, of North Arlington, N.J., was killed. Hiesse was dazed, but uninjured, and Caulfiled said Van Zile's body apparently shielded Heisse from harm.

The blast was felt as far away as Suffolk County on New York's Long Island and Connecticut.

Caulfield said vehicles and structures in the immediate area were 'completely destroyed' by the explosion.

Nelkus Taylor was in a wooden shed at the Central Steel Drum Co. about 700 feet away from the tanks, near the Passaic River, at Kearny Point.

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'It was just like a tornado,' he said. 'Woosh, then just everything went. I couldn't see nothing -- flying debris, wood and everything else was all over the place. It just blew me off the ground. I just ran and kept running.'

'The whole place is demolished. It looks like somebody dropped a bomb in there. The building, the garage, all the buildings are shattered to pieces,' said Jose Santiago, an employee of the Central Steel Drum Co., located next to the Texaco facility.

He said several tractor-trailer trucks parked on the site were 'mashed up like little toys.'

Police said doors were flung open and windows smashed by the force of the explosion in Jersey City, Elizabeth and nearby cities.

Jersey City police said three people were arrested looting a dress store where a plate glass window was shattered by the blast.

Police in Suffolk County on New York's Long Island reported that dozens of callers from communities as far away as 70 miles from the blast called to ask what happened.

Concerned callers swamped police and news organization switchboards seconds afer the initial blast.

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