Three Missing in Tex. Fireworks Warehouse Explosion

KILGORE, Texas (AP) -- Authorities were searching Friday for three fireworks company employees missing after a series of explosions destroyed half of their warehouse, injuring several people and shattering nearby property.

It was the second deadly fireworks blast in as many days. Investigators in Bonita Springs, Fla., were gingerly picking through rubble in search of evidence of what caused a Wednesday blast that killed five people as they unloaded an Independence Day display from a truck.

The Texas blasts at Lamb Entertainment's large metal warehouse Thursday evening knocked fireworks and other debris several blocks away. Flames from the explosions burned pickup trucks; the cab of a nearby tractor-trailer rig was gutted.

Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano said five homes in the neighborhood east of the warehouse were damaged or destroyed, with their occupants evacuated to an area hotel.

``The scene is pretty devastating,'' he said.

Thousands of pounds of fireworks inside the warehouse and packed in the tractor-trailer rig exploded, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said. Employees were preparing 12 commercial fireworks shows scheduled for Friday, including one in Kilgore, when the blasts began at about 5 p.m.

Firefighters were still battling the ensuing blaze late Thursday night, but officials believed the fireworks had been contained.

The missing workers, two men and a woman, were inside the building when the first blast occurred, Mayor Joe T. Parker said. He said three or four women working at Lamb Entertainment's offices suffered minor injuries. One was taken to a hospital, he said, but none of those injuries was believed to be life-threatening.

American Red Cross workers were helping eight families who were displaced from homes damaged in the blasts.

``It was a big, big explosion ... the building was shaking,'' said Justin Singh, owner of Food & Fuel convenience store a half-mile from the warehouse. ``We ran out and saw white smoke coming out. It was bad, people were all running scared.''

Singh said 10 or 15 smaller explosions followed the initial explosion.

Sheriff's Capt. Ken Hartley said ATF agents directing the investigation had not determined a cause. ``It'll be a slow, tedious process to go through the debris, and the job they have to do,'' he said.

In Bonita Springs, Fla., authorities initially hesitated Thursday to enter the scene of the Wednesday explosion because of concerns that live fireworks would be disturbed. The bodies of four victims were left there until midday until investigators were certain it was safe to retrieve them.

The fifth victim died Thursday at the burn unit at Tampa General Hospital where he had been airlifted.

The sole survivor, Juanita Combs, was treated and released from HealthPark Medical Center in Fort Myers. Investigators planned to interview her Thursday.

``The amazing thing about her is when the explosions started and she heard it, she ran and jumped in the water, so her injuries are not very great,'' said Lee County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Michael Maschmeier said.

Workers were loading the truck, which was carrying $50,000 worth of fireworks destined for displays in Bonita Springs and Naples, when the blasts erupted. There was no early indication of the cause, according to officials with the sheriff's office and ATF officials.

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