BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – One man had a leg severed Saturday and four others were also injured as shrapnel from the demolition of a power plant flew into a crowd of more than 1,000 spectators that had gathered in California’s Central Valley to watch it come down, officials said.
The crowd gathered at 6 a.m., some sleeping in their cars overnight, to watch the planned implosion of the steam power plant in Bakersfield owned by the public utility Pacific Gas and Electric that had been decommissioned for decades.
After buildings came down in a fiery crash, a police officer heard a man screaming for help and saw that his leg had been blown off.
“It was a piece of shrapnel that came flying out of the explosion and came across and went through a couple of chain link fences,” said police Lt. Scott Tunnicliffe.
The 44-year-old victim also had major injuries to the other leg, and may lose it also, Tunnicliffe said. Officials declined to release his name.
Four other spectators were treated for minor injuries, said Kern County Fire engineer Leland Davis. All of the injured spectators were standing beyond a perimeter set up to ensure public safety, Davis said.
Fred Garten, 49, was standing behind the perimeter when a piece of metal roughly the size of a household door came flying at him and grazed his right leg, leaving his socks and shorts splattered with blood.
“It’s a good gouge, but it’s just scratches,” Garten told the Bakersfield Californian. “I just feel bad for the other guy. They took him away on a gurney, and I’m walking.”
Several cars were also damaged by the shrapnel.
The plant was decommissioned in 1986 and has been idle since. Pacific Gas and Electric reached an agreement with the city to clean up the property and prepare it for sale. The company hired subcontractors to handle the demolition of the plant’s boiler structures and worked with local authorities to set up a safe perimeter 1,000 feet from the site, said Denny Boyles, a company spokesman.
“We are deeply saddened that this happened,” Boyles said. “We’re looking for answers like everyone else.”
Cleveland Wrecking Co. of Covina, Calif., the main contractor on the demolition, issued a statement expressing sympathy and vowing a thorough investigation but declined further comment.