Neighbors say they live in fear after explosion at hydrogen fuel plant

Explosion at hydrogen fuel plant damages 60 homes

LONG VIEW, N.C. — Neighbors in Catawba County say they are living in fear after a hydrogen plant explosion earlier in April damaged dozens of homes.

The blast at OneH2 Inc. Hydrogen Fuel in Long View punched a hole in the plant’s wall and shattered windows at 60 homes down the street and it could be felt in Hickory and southern Caldwell County, nearly 10 miles away.

Some neighbors told our partners at the Hickory Daily Record that before the explosion, they saw bright lights and small blasts from the plant.

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Now, they think the town isn’t taking their concerns seriously. Many are worried another explosion could happen and they have started a petition to block the plant from operating in the neighborhood.

It has more than 1,500 signatures.

The town administrator said no one filed complaints about the plant before the explosion.

Police and firefighters responded to the explosion to the plant in Long View just after 8 a.m. on April 7.

Authorities said 42 workers were in the building at the time of the explosion, but nobody was injured.

The company later credited hydrogen safety protocols and systems that prevented injuries and more damage to the facility.

Officials said safety systems were operational, including hydrogen tank pressure relief mechanisms and isolating valves.

Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty could see the back wall of the facility, on 23rd Street NW, had been blown out from the blast.

The explosion was so strong that it damaged several nearby homes and reportedly was felt across northwest Hickory and southern Caldwell County.

Roughly 60 surrounding homes sustained mostly minor damage from the explosion, according to officials, and they have all been inspected by Catawba County building inspectors and City of Hickory fire inspectors.

Just down the street from the plant, Lee Rigsbee showed Channel 9 the damage to her home where several windows were shattered.

“I had laid down on the sofa and it threw me off the sofa onto the floor," Rigsbee said. "And my dog jumped on top of me. I guess he was trying to protect me.”

One home has been deemed uninhabitable, and the owner is being helped, authorities said.

Affected homeowners are advised to contact their home insurance company to begin the reporting process.

One homeowner Channel 9 spoke with said his bed lifted off the ground and when he got up, nearly every window in his house was blown out.

“It’s got windows knocked out, doors knocked out,” said Walter Thornburg, who lives close to the plant. “The building wall is knocked out. Scared the daylights out of us.”

The explosion was so strong that Josh Walker, another neighbor, said nearly every window in his home was damaged.

“It (my bed) lifted up -- everything lifted up," Walker said. "The whole house, the picture frames came off the wall. Everything went everywhere.”

All 42 workers were accounted for and nobody was hurt, firefighters said.

Officials said the company produces hydrogen from natural gas for vehicles.

OneH2′s website describes the business:

“We deliver hydrogen fuel that’s ready for “immediate use” -- already converted to high-pressure gaseous fuel that takes only minutes to dispense. Our system monitors your daily fuel usage through web-based telemetrics to alert us when to schedule the next fuel delivery and trailer swap out.”

Building inspectors were sent to the facility. Damage estimates were reported to be tens of thousands of dollars.

The company’s CEO said he could discuss other locations for the plant in the town. He said, “Would it make more sense to move that somewhere else and focus on manufacturing, which is the really important bit?”

The cause of the explosion is still being investigated. Responders were also monitoring air quality, and there is no risk to the community.

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this story.

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