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Mayor Bloomberg Holds Press Conference

Aired February 21, 2003 - 12:46   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking at live pictures, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Ray Kelly standing next to him, the police commissioner, in New York City. They are about to speak about this fire in Staten Island.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: ... there was a barge unloading 4 million gallons of gasoline, and roughly halfway through the unloading process, for a reason which we do not yet know, there was a very powerful explosion.

Unfortunately, there are two civilians who were working for the barge company, Bouchard, who are unaccounted for. There were approximately 30 people working for Exxon-Mobil, all of whom have been accounted for. One has been injured, and is in Staten Island North Hospital in serious condition. Nobody else was injured.

The fire has basically been burning itself out. The fire department has been putting foam on the fire, and cooling off pipes that have gasoline in them near the fire. There was another barge close by after the fire burnt itself out to some extent. That barge was moved out of the way, and is now on the other side of the water.

The barge that exploded has sunk. We don't know how much -- how much of the gasoline has burnt and how much is still in the barge under water, but our best guess is that within an hour, the fire will be totally extinguished, and the fire marshals will do their job of trying to ascertain why the accident happened.

Let me repeat, there is absolutely no evidence and no reason to think whatsoever that this is anything other than a very tragic industrial accident. Handling gasoline is a dangerous thing. Unfortunately, every once in awhile, whether it's static electricity or something else causes a fire, and in this case, two people are missing, and we fear the worst for them.

We have here the fire department, police department, Office of Emergency Management, and the Department of Environmental Protection, all of whom have coordinated their efforts from the very beginning.

The fire department has a lot of equipment from Staten Island and from Brooklyn, and they have, for a period of time with the police department, evacuated a small area of people that were living close by.

Generally speaking, those people are now being allowed back into their homes. The outer bridge was closed to inbound traffic from New Jersey, and the Verrazzano for a very brief period of time to make sure that we could get emergency equipment here was closed.

The Department of Environmental Protection is establishing air quality monitoring stations at the site of the fire, and then downwind, and they will check to make sure that the air quality is acceptable.

Our advice to people is go about your business. If the air quality, the smell of burning gasoline, bothers you, stay inside, but as you can see, it is dissipating very rapidly, and with the exception of the loss of life of two people, things are getting back to normal.

We'll be happy to take some questions. We do not have the names, not announcing the names of those, the two that are missing, or the one who has been injured.

QUESTION: ... cited in July for failing to make inspections, and also for possibly some wrongful delivery of fuel back and forth, what can you tell us about that? Has Exxon-Mobil made any...

BLOOMBERG: At this point, our main concern is to get the fire out and try to find out what happened to those two people that are missing, and we will address those kinds of issues afterwards.


BLOOMBERG: The fire was confined, basically, to gasoline on the water. Some of it drifted up next to the land, but the fire department quickly put foam and water on the fire there to make sure that it did not spread.

QUESTION: What was immediately on land that might have been...

BLOOMBERG: Well, it's in an area where nobody lives, but there were 30 people working here, and there are tanks that hold kerosene, gasoline, other -- alcohol, and those are each spread out far part for exactly this reason, that if you have a fire in one place, you want to make sure that you can contain it.

All of the fire was really on the water, around the barge. The barge was obviously destroyed, and some minor piping close by, and that's about it.

QUESTION: So mayor, there was...


QUESTION: ... unloading, what are the possibilities? You mentioned static electricity...

BLOOMBERG: Well, you don't know, static electricity is always an issue. You always want to ground things when you're moving liquids because the friction of a liquid against pipes builds up and creates static electricity, but for all we know, there was something else going on. It's just much too early to tell. We will be interviewing the worker who was on land and was a Mobil-Exxon -- Exxon-Mobil employee who is in the hospital, and there are some detectives and fire marshals at the hospital to do that.

I am just trying to give everybody one chance.


BLOOMBERG: It's probably very confined, and probably will not have a big economic impact, but our first concern at this point is to get the fire out and to try to find the two workers who are unaccounted for.



QUESTION: The two workers who are missing, who do they work for?

BLOOMBERG: They work for Bouchard, the barge company. The worker that was injured works for Exxon-Mobil that runs the facility here at Port Mobil.

QUESTION: Is the FBI on the scene?

QUESTION: ... tell us about the response here, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) response to the emergency operation, is the city vulnerable if another attack happened somewhere else?

BLOOMBERG: No, the city has adequate facilities, personnel, and keeps coordination...

BLITZER: We're going to break away from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's news conference. He just reported that two civilians unaccounted for. His words: "We fear the worst for them."


BLITZER: Let's go back to Mayor Michael Bloomberg at that news conference in Staten Island. He's on the scene with other local authorities speaking about that huge fire at a fuel storage facility in Staten Island.

QUESTION: ... was there ever a threat of the underground gas pipeline that is apparently...

BLOOMBERG: There are some underground pipelines. We don't think -- last I checked, there was none very close to that, but the fire department immediately wanted to evacuate some people from that area just in case. They did that. Better to be on the safe side, and that's why the fire department's first job is prevention, and they do such an excellent job. That is why you see the number of deaths from fires continuing to go down. It is at a 75 year low -- Miss.

QUESTION: Mayor, some of the residents were told to stay in their homes, close their windows. Are you still advising that? BLOOMBERG: I think at this point, as you can see, the fire is essentially out. Only if it's bothering you, with at this point, you can probably go about your business.

QUESTION: How many people were evacuated?

BLOOMBERG: No, but it is not an area where a lot of people live. It's an industrial area. We just looked for the -- about a half a mile radius...

BLITZER: And we're going to leave Mayor Bloomberg for the time being, continue to monitor that news conference.


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