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BLASTS HURT 18, LEVEL 3 BUILDINGS AT HERCULES POWDER PLANT IN N.J.

SHARE BLASTS HURT 18, LEVEL 3 BUILDINGS AT HERCULES POWDER PLANT IN N.J.

Explosions leveled three buildings at a gunpowder plant Saturday, injuring at least 18 people, blowing out windows in nearby towns and shaking houses up to 13 miles away.

The 5 a.m. explosions at the Hercules Powder plant knocked down trees, tore off doors and damaged many homes and about 80 percent of the businesses in this northcentral New Jersey township, about 40 miles west of New York City, officials said. The plant makes gunpowder for military and commercial uses."There's absolutely nothing there but dirt and it doesn't even look that there was a building there," said Val Mazzucca, who flew over the site in a helicopter several hours after the blasts. "All of the trees are blown over. It looks like Mount St. Helens."

Three of about 40 buildings at the 6-square-mile complex were destroyed, four others had fire damage and several others were partly damaged, plant manager Dick Best said. He said he did not know the cause of the blasts.

About 50 employees were working on the overnight shift, Best said. There apparently were no life-threatening injuries.

A supervisor for Dover General Hospital said 12 Hercules employees had been brought in. Nine of them and about half a dozen townspeople were treated and released and three employees were admitted, with injuries ranging from back pains to a concussion.