Tanker truck catches fire, triggers explosions in South Los Angeles, injuring 2 people | TribLIVE.com
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Tanker truck catches fire, triggers explosions in South Los Angeles, injuring 2 people

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AP
Firefighters douse a fire, which sent up a huge plume of smoke in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 17, 2019. Authorities say a 9,000-gallon tanker leaking gasoline caught fire and caused an explosion that injured two people in South Los Angeles. The fire department says the blast Sunday morning reverberated through storm drains and sent manhole covers into the air.
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AP
Firefighters work at the scene of a fire after an explosion in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 17, 2019. Authorities said multiple people were hurt in the explosion following reports of an underground gas leak in South Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES — A 9,000-gallon tanker truck leaking gasoline caught fire and triggered multiple explosions Sunday in South Los Angeles early, igniting surrounding structures and sending a huge column of black smoke into the air, authorities said.

Fire officials arrived at the scene on West Slauson Avenue about 7:45 a.m. to find the truck and surrounding area fully engulfed, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said.

The explosions occurred with such force that they broke a large manhole cover in half just east of Brentwood Street and Slauson and set a nearby home on fire, officials said. Much of the damage was confined to the home and an adjacent parking lot surrounded by corrugated metal.

Two people were injured in the blast, one of them seriously, officials said. Both were taken to a hospital, where they remained hours after the incident.

The truck’s smoldering gas tank lay on its side in the parking lot with one end blown open. More than an hour after the explosion, firefighters were still clambering on the roof of the charred home nearby.

Felipe Cuevas, 30, lives just a few hundred yards away.

“My sister was getting home from work about 8 a.m. when she smelled gas in the air,” Cuevas said. “She reported it to the gas company. The gas company told her it would be there as soon as possible. As soon as she walked back into the house, there was a loud … boom, followed by six or seven more booms separated by about five minutes.”

Cuevas looked out at the neighborhood.

“Man, it was scary — look!” he said, showing his arms still covered in goose bumps. “I pulled out the garden hose, I started drenching our roof and my neighbors’ roofs with water. I still didn’t know what was going on. Then firefighters said, ‘You have to leave.’ “

Joseph Casillas, 32, and his family also live nearby.

“There was a big explosion — we thought it was an earthquake,” Casillas said. “There was a fireball and a tornado of fire. It was very hectic in the streets of our neighborhood.”

Customers of Puro Texcoco, a Mexican restaurant nearby, quickly fled, abandoning their half-eaten tacos and breakfast burritos.

Francisco Pilla, 33, works at the restaurant and was among those who ran.

“I heard an explosion, then I started running and I looked back and there was a little river of gasoline running along the curb and into the storm drain in front of the restaurant,” Pilla told The Times in Spanish.

The stench of gas saturated the air, Pilla recalled. He heard explosions, and as he looked back toward the restaurant, he saw the gas running into the storm drain ignite.

“It’s a little river of fire,” Pilla said.

Dozens of firefighters battled the blaze. It took at least 90 minutes to extinguish the fire, officials said.

The explosion created a huge plume of black smoke that several jetliners cut through during their approach to Los Angeles International Airport, but it did not affect airport operations, officials said.

Times staff photographer Genaro Molina contributed to this report.

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