BELLMORE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Residents of Bellmore, Long Island were reeling Wednesday evening, after a tanker explosion threatened to engulf their neighborhood in fire.
As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the tanker carrying 12,000 gallons of fuel slammed into the back of a Hyundai that was stopped at a red light on the Sunrise Highway near Newbridge Road late Tuesday night.
The massive fire took 12 hours to be brought under control, leaving the tanker truck wrecked and charred.
The neighborhood erupted in chaos and panic after the accident, as flames rolled from the Sunrise Highway down Brevoort Place, fueled by a river of gasoline from the tanker.
“Twelve thousand gallons originally, and approximately 7,000 gallons spilled out,” said Nassau County police Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lack.
“The potential was definitely there for a disaster,” said Bellmore fire Chief Chirstopher O’Brien.
At one point, the flames were 20 feet high and spread to a nearby Harley-Davidson dealership and several homes.
Witnesses watched in horror.
“The electric lines were on fire, the telephone poles, the tree,” witness Don Pugh told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown.
“We got out of the house, we were concerned because it was pretty close to where we lived,” one nearby resident told 1010 WINS’ John Montone.
Members of the Matthews family barely escaped with their lives.
“I have an 87-year-old mother who lives with me, and it was a fireball coming at us, getting her out of the house,” said Mary Matthews.
Pugh tried to alert people to the danger.
“We ran up the street and just started knocking on doors to get people out of the houses,” he said.
Al Macaluso continued the community rescue effort by taking people in.
“There was a whole bunch of little kids. What are you going to do?” he said. “I had about 20 people, three dogs and one cat.”
Rescuers said they fought through an inferno as the exteriors of five homes began melting away. A dozen cars also exploded.
All day Wednesday, hazardous materials crews worked to contain the spill with sand and siphons, clearing sewers to stop the spread of gasoline into the bay.
Sunrise Highway was closed for a time in both directions in the area of the crash, but reopened late Wednesday morning.
“We created a dam on one of the side streets to make sure the fuel, the 3,000 gallons of fuel that was spilling onto Sunrise Highway, did not flow into the neighborhood,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said.
Truck operator Island Transportation of West Babylon defended its safety record as stellar, but could not comment on the possibility that excessive speed was a factor.
Investigators said they were examining the tanker driver’s cell phone records, as well as any surveillance or traffic cameras in the area that may have captured the accident.
The cause of the accident is under investigation late Wednesday afternoon.
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