Tank explosion heard, felt from Nokomis to Robinsonville

From left, DeMarcus McMillian, Chief Ron Peebles and Shane Rollin with AFD examine the damage.

News Staff Writer

Last week’s explosion of a gasoline storage tank that was being cut into scrap metal was heard or felt by residents and employees of businesses all across Atmore and into the rural areas beyond the city.
Emergency services dispatchers were bombarded with calls from local residents, and individuals in Nokomis, Wawbeek, Robinsonville and elsewhere reported hearing “a loud boom,” and the blast, which happened around 8:15 a.m. last Thursday, August 4, reportedly was felt across the entire Atmore area.
“This made my windows rattle,” said Jen Lowery, who lives near Walmart, while Lana Langford, who lives along Jack Springs Road, said, “We heard a very loud boom…”
The Rev. Perry McCullam, who lives near Houston Avery Park in the city’s northeastern sector, drove to the scene. McCullam said he and several of his neighbors thought the explosion happened near them.
“We heard the boom, and it shook the whole house,” he said. “We thought it was right in our neighborhood.”
Concussion from the explosion knocked down ceiling tiles and overturned office furniture at FS Advisors, which is only a few yards from Atmore Recycling, and shook loose the can lights on the porch of G&H Systems, which is about 500 yards from the recycling business.
“I thought a jet had crashed,” said G&H Systems President Jerry Gehman, who is also a volunteer firefighter at Nokomis. “When it happened, I thought that horrendous an explosion had to be something like a jet crash. The shock waves were so powerful, they went through my building to inside, where we were. I and my whole staff felt it in our bodies.”
There were also reports that the blast shook the offices of Peacock Pavers, which is located on North Alabama 21, located just south of Wind Creek.
The Atmore Recycling employee who was using a torch to cut the tank into scrap was taken to Atmore Community Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries and released.
The man was working on the end of the tank that was separated from the body by the blast and blown more than 20 yards, through a fence and into a vacant field next to the recycling center.
“He’s lucky be alive,” Gehman said of the man. “All I saw was some singed hair on his head, and his knees were scraped. He ran and jumped when he saw the flames and he jumped at the right time. Otherwise, he would never have known what hit him.”
Matt Crosby, who owns the company with his wife Kristi, agreed the man had more than luck on his side.
“He’s home resting right now,” Crosby said the day after the incident. “I believe God was looking after him and everybody else. It’s very fortunate everyone is okay, and no one got seriously injured. It was just a freak thing, something we couldn’t prevent.”
Gehman pointed out that the explosion could have been a more destructive one on several levels.
“The tank end knocked a fence down and flew about 20 to 30 yards into a field,” he said. “People need to be grateful — the folks at FS Advisors, those in the office of Atmore Recycling — that the tank end did not blow through their building and kill them or blow out onto 31 and kill someone unexpectedly who was driving by. It’s just amazing to me that nobody died.”