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Old 01-15-2009, 09:17 AM
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Explosion rocks Abita Brewery in St. Tammany Parish

An explosion tore through the Abita Brewery near Abita Springs early Tuesday morning when a tank became over-pressurized.

The 1:30 blast blew through the roof of the brewery, shattered windows and left debris strewn through a nearby trailer park and was heard two miles to the south along Harrison Avenue, said Capt. Matt Huddleston, with St. Tammany Parish's 12th Fire Protection District.

No one was injured in the explosion, which did not cause a fire, Huddleston said.

Workers Tuesday reported to work to find a gaping hole in one of the buildings at the rear of the brewery where the blast had peeled back metal shingles and blown through part of the wall. Workers loaded kegs onto trucks Tuesday morning as Abita Brewing Company spokeswoman Beth Harris said the company had stopped brewing operations for the day but would resume full operation on Wednesday.

"We just feel blessed that no one was injured," said Harris, who works for Innovative Advertising in Abita Springs. Harris noted that none of the tanks used for brewing were damaged and "no beer was spilled."

Prior to the blast, brewery crews were cleaning a large tank, a process that includes pressurizing the tank with CO2, Huddleston said. But a valve failed Tuesday morning, allowing the tank to become over pressurized and eventually explode, he said.

"None of the other equipment seems to be damaged, but there is a large hole in the building," Huddleston said, noting that firefighters checked to make sure the brewery was still structurally sound before leaving.

There were several safety features which should have prevented this kind of explosion and the Abita Brewing Company plans to fully examine the accident to determine exactly what went wrong, Harris said.

Residents of the Covington Manor trailer park, which sits directly behind the brewery, were startled awake by a "tremendous boom," said James Herring, who lives on Barbee Street.

"It didn't knock me out of bed, but it sure gave me a quick wake-up call.

Thinking that either a car had driven into his home or that someone was trying to force their way in, Herring grabbed his gun and ran outside.

On the street, he found other neighbors also in a state of confusion from the blast. Sheets of roofing landed in yards and gouged into the roofs of some trailers near the blast and shattered glass was spread through the yards and hung in the windows of many homes.

Other residents said they thought the blast was a gunshot or an electrical transformer that exploded.

"My daughter, she came running, 'Mama! What was that? What was that," said Stacy Bickham, who lives with her 9-year-old daughter Latisha Penn on the road behind the brewery.

Residents said a company representative had come through the neighborhood Tuesday morning and promised to repair any damage caused by the explosion.
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