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Massive Explosions Rock Florida Propane Plant

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The Blue Rhino plant in Tavares, Florida refills propane tanks. The Blue Rhino plant in Tavares, Florida refills propane tanks.
TAVARES, Florida -

Massive explosions rocked a central Florida propane gas plant, sending seven people to area hospitals.

All the workers at the plant were accounted for early Tuesday after officials initially could not account for more than a dozen.

John Herrell, of the Lake County Sheriff's Office, said there were no fatalities despite the massive blasts that ripped through the Blue Rhino propane plant late Monday night.

"At this point, we have no fatalities being reported," he said. "Management is comfortable saying all of those they knew were there tonight have been accounted for."

Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith says officials don't suspect sabotage caused the explosions.

Four people injured in the explosions were listed in critical condition early Tuesday.

Herrell said some others drove themselves to area hospitals.

By the middle of the night, all fires sparked by the explosions were contained and most were out, he told CBS News.

The Blue Rhino plant refilled propane tanks typically used for barbecues and other uses.

Herrell said a crew of 24 to 26 people was working at the facility on an overnight shift when the explosions occurred around 11 p.m.

The fire was sending plumes of smoke into the air hours after the blast.

Herrell said an evacuation zone with a one-mile radius was initially set up but was reduced to a half-mile. No injuries were reported from residents in the neighborhood, and residents were later allowed to return to their homes.

One worker, Bobby Hutsenpiller, told CBS Orlando affiliate WKMG an explosion threw him back about three feet. "All I could see was everyone just running. I just got up and ran," he said.

Dylan Page, a nearby resident, told the station, "It sounded like a bomb going off. Hundreds of them."

Another, John Bodgen, recalled for WKMG that, "We started seeing those grill tanks, gas tanks flying up in the air. And it literally, it had to be at least 200, 300 feet up in the air."

Marni Whitehead, 33, who lives less than a mile from the plant, said she was in bed ready to go to sleep when she heard a loud boom. "It was like a car had run into my house, is what I thought had happened," she said.

She ran outside and saw other neighbors outside and then they saw the explosions. "We knew right away it was the plant, the propane plant," Whitehead said. "After that, it was just sort of panic."

Whitehead likened the explosions to Fourth of July fireworks. "And it was just boom after boom after boom," she said.

Herrell said the plant usually has 53,000 20-pound propane tanks.

According to the Leesburg Daily Commercial, the plant was built in 2004 and employs fewer than 50 people.

The cause of the blasts wasn't known.

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