Investigators say 53-year-old Manuel Herrera was killed when two carbon dioxide tanks burst. The explosion happened a few miles west of Muleshoe just before 5 p.m. on Thursday. Four other men survived the blast and have been treated and released. Investigators say Herrera was painting one of the tanks when it exploded.
It was a blast so powerful; it sent shards of half-inch thick steel, up to a quarter of a mile away. "We had an explosion, we don't know what caused it and we're going to be investigating that", said Bailey County Sheriff Richard Wills.
Investigators believe as many as three carbon dioxide tanks exploded. Some tanks were blown to pieces, others appeared to have been thrown for several yards but are still fully intact. The debris nicked up and scared fields like a golf ball would a sand trap. Evidence of just how destructive the blast was.
Neighbors say it sounded awful. "I just happened to look out the window and all of the sudden heard this loud boom boom type thing. Saw the dogs run and I just thought somebody was shootin", said Nancy Patterson.
Jenny Shaw, her husband and granddaughter live less than a half-mile from where the explosion happened. She's glad they weren't home at the time. "I have been on the phone all evening. People checking on us, checking on our house and seeing if we knew anything."
The debris also clipped power lines and caused temporary outages in the area. Bailey County Sheriff Deputies closed down a portion of the highway between Muleshoe and Portales for about three hours. "There was a chunk of the road that was knocked out by some of the debris that was flying", said Sheriff Wills. The damaged area was patched quickly and the road was reopened, but puddles of spilled diesel at the explosion site are still a concern and could force another road closure.
Now, the remaining Co2 tanks are being vented and the plant is being shut down. OSHA and HAZMAT crews are on their way and will begin to clean the mess up. The Bailey County Sheriff says that could take days if not weeks.