Friday, June 07, 2002

School explosion injures two Cinergy employees

'Zero' chance of reopening in time for fall semester

By Earnest Winston,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — A staff meeting was scheduled at Glenn O. Swing Elementary School for just minutes before a gas-related explosion ignited a fire, injuring two Cinergy workers Thursdaymorning.

        But the meeting had been postponed an hour, district officials confirmed.

[photo] Covington firefighters work on a fire at Glenn O. Swing Elementary School at 19th and Jefferson streets Thursday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        The two Cinergy employees suffered serious burns in the explosion, and the school was so badly damaged there's no chance it will open in time for fall classes.

        Terry Wardlow, 45, was in fair condition and Lee Williams, 48, was in good condition later Thursday, said a University Hospital spokeswoman. Mr. Wardlow suffered third-degree burns to one arm and was burned on his face, back, chest and other arm. Mr. Williams had leg and face burns.

        The school was closed for the summer, so no students were in the building. Five other people inside were not injured.

        The school, with part of one wall blown out from the force of the blast, has “zero” chance of being open by fall, said Jack Moreland, superintendent of Covington Independent Schools. Summer school schedules are being adjusted, officials said.

[photo] The exact cause and damage estimate of Thursday's school explosion have not yet been determined, said a Cinergy spokesman.
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        Cinergy spokesman Dave Woodburn said the two employees were repairing a gas meter when the incident occurred.

        “Something happened and we're not sure what, but there was an explosion and a resulting fire. As far as the cause, we don't know yet,” Mr. Woodburn said.

        Covington Assistant Fire Chief David Brown said firefighters arrived to see flames billowing from the roof and walls. No houses were evacuated. Gas lines and electricity at the school were shut off.

        Mr. Moreland said the explosion occurred just after 7:30 a.m. in a mechanical room adjacent to the cafeteria.

        “There's extensive damage in that general area,” Mr. Moreland said. Today, crews will begin boarding up the exposed areas, and Covington police will guard the school around the clock until Wednesday.

        The school's principal, a guidance counselor and three custodial workers were inside the building when the explosion occurred, Mr. Moreland said.

        Regular classes ended Friday and summer school was scheduled to begin Monday at the school, on 19th Street.

        “It's an absolute blessing” that there were no students in the building, Mr. Moreland said. “It could have been really devastating.”

        Plans are now being made to bus summer school students from Glenn O. Swing to Sixth District Elementary.

        Preliminary indications from the fire department suggest officials will try to save the building.


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