NEW YORK - An explosion rocked an oil storage facility at the edge of Staten Island on Friday, killing one worker and sending black smoke and flames hundreds of feet into the air. Authorities said there were no indications of terrorism.
A man's body was pulled from the water three hours after the fire started about 10 a.m., according to police spokesman Michael O'Looney. Another worker was unaccounted for and a third person suffered third-degree burns and was in critical condition, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and hospital officials.
The explosion occurred when a barge containing 100,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline was being offloaded at the 200-acre storage facility, which holds petroleum products including gasoline and heating oil, said Prem Nair, a spokeswoman for ExxonMobil, which owned the facility.
She would not speculate on the cause of the explosion.
At a news conference, Bloomberg said the blaze was contained mainly on the water and on two barges - the one that exploded and then sank, and another nearby barge that caught fire.
"The fire has basically been burning itself out," Bloomberg said. "There is absolutely no evidence and no reason this think at this moment that this is anything other than a tragic accident."
The barge owner, N.Y.-based Bouchard Transportation, said no one was available to comment.
The mayor said the Department of Environmental Protection was monitoring air quality.
The explosion, which could be heard for miles, occurred about 10 a.m. at the edge of Port Mobil Terminal, near the Outerbridge Crossing that links the island to New Jersey.
"For a lot of people, the initial reaction was they thought it was another terrorist attack," said Rep. Vito Fossella, who represents Staten Island, which suffered heavy losses in the Sept. 11 attack.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said the agency issued temporary flight restrictions on aircraft, barring them from within two miles of the explosion site and an altitude of 3,000 feet and below.
The Coast Guard was assisting at the scene with about six boats and a helicopter, said Lt. Angela Cooper. Much of the Arthur Kill waterway, the primary entrance for the Port of Newark, was closed to shipping.
The fire sent petroleum futures skyrocketing. Ed Silliere, vice president of risk management at Energy Merchant in New York, said the storage facility was an important one for New York Harbor.
"We can't be losing this quantity at this time," he said. "You have to wait for the dust to settle because we don't know what the damage will be."