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1 killed, dozens escape explosion at warehouse

Mar 9, 2007 | Houston Chronicle

An explosion at a southeast Houston warehouse Thursday killed a man whose last day on the job would have been today.

The man died in the explosion at American Elastomer Products Co., a rubber manufacturing company in the 5300 block of Polk, about 11:40 a.m. Four dozen others who work there escaped without injury.

Today, local authorities and officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will continue their investigation into the accident, which blew out walls and roof portions of the warehouse and rocked the surrounding Central City Industrial Park business complex.

The metal structure of the building remained intact.

A preliminary investigation showed the blast occurred after a piece of equipment, a high-pressure vessel used for the manufacturing of rubber, failed, assistant Houston Fire Chief Omero Longoria said.

"How close he was to it or what the circumstances were, I'm not sure at this time," he said Thursday afternoon.

By late Thursday, officials had not released the man's identity.

Fellow employees described him as a hard worker and a family man.

They said today would have been his last day at the company, where he had worked for almost six months.

"He was only here temporarily," said Anthony Lewis, who has worked at the company for seven years as a shipping clerk. "He was going off to be a truck driver."

As investigators began their investigation Thursday, employees sat somberly behind the building in a shaded area. There, they drank bottled water, ate pizza and mourned the loss of a co-worker.

"He was a real good person and he's going to be missed," Lewis said as he sat in the bed of a truck shaking his head. He said the man performed janitorial-type jobs.

"He was one of the best guys we had here," said Richard Estelle, a 38-year-old press line operator.

The company is among many in the business complex, which also includes a storefront for the Harris County Precinct 6 Constable's office. Deputies in that office, about 150 feet from the blast site, heard a loud explosion, said Lt. Glenn Ellis.

"The blast was significant enough so that every building in the complex shook," Ellis said.

Ellis said the constable's satellite office received reports that people at Jackson Middle School, 5100 Polk, also felt the blast.

Precinct 6 deputies were the first officials at the scene and they quickly evacuated all employees for fear of a secondary explosion, Ellis said.

Elizabeth Razo said she was walking into her office in the warehouse when she felt the building shake. Pieces of wall board and insulation from the ceiling began falling around her.

"I just kept on running," said the 29-year-old woman who works in the company's business office."I wanted to make it out the front door."

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