Solvents Plant Explosions Rock Wichita Suburb

By: AP
By: AP

Valley Center, Kan. - Even though authorities have canceled a mandatory evacuation around a burning solvents plant near Wichita, they're advising people to "shelter in place."

The Red Cross said authorities were not immediately allowing people who left their homes to return. And those who remain are being advised today to stay on the first floor of their homes and shut off their airconditioners.

A 9:15 a.m. explosion and fire at Barton Solvents in downtown Valley Center prompted officials to evacuate an area around the facility about 10 miles north of Wichita.

Ten people went to a Wichita hospital as a precaution but none were expected to stay overnight.

The Red Cross said about 200 people had been taken to an evacuees' center at Kansas Coliseum.

Dispatcher Maddy Tormey said she heard at least 15 explosions.

The initial blast touched off a fire that drew firefighters from several area departments. Big clouds of black smoke billowed from storage tanks, and flames were shooting up to 200 feet into the air.

Barton Solvents president David Casten said the cause of the explosion is unknown. The company is based in Des Moines, Iowa.

Casten said the plant employs about two dozen people. About 12 were working at the time of the blast.

He said there are 36 storage tanks at the plant but he did not know how many were burning.

The tanks contained industrial chemicals, including hydrocarbons, alcohol and ketones, used in the paint and coatings industry.


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