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Five killed in deadly fireworks explosion near Florida beach

Paraphrased by
Steve Waldrop
July 7, 2003

The death count now stands at five. Four workers lost their lives as they were unloading an Independence Day fireworks display, and a fifth victim died later at the burn unit of Tampa General Hospital, where he had been receiving treatment after the deadly gulf side blast occurred. Only one worker survived the blast. Junaita Combs, the soul survivor heard the explosion when it started and ran and jumped into the nearby water, thus avoiding serious injuries.

The explosion occurred on a tip of vacant land at a state park in Bonita Springs, Wednesday afternoon as employees of Sunset Fireworks unloaded a truck filled with fireworks for the Fourth of July celebration in this Florida Gulf Coast town with a population of about 40,000.

The blast shook the ground for at least a mile, spewed colorful burst of flames from the truck and scattered debris for 100 yards in every direction. The explosion blackened 10 to 15 acres of the park where the fireworks display was to be held.

One witness said the blast "was just like being in a nuclear explosion. The tractor-trailer was fully engulfed in flames by the time that firefighters arrived on the scene.

Video from the scene showed the tractor-trailer burned to the ground, with gray smoke rising from its blackened wreckage.

Hours after the blast, smoke rose from the charred remains of two trucks, which had been parked back-to-back. A pickup truck that was parked close by was also burned.

There was no early indication of the cause of the blast, according to officials with the sheriff's office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The state fire marshall's office, as well as bomb squad members also went to the scene to investigate.

The owner of the company, Susan Harvey of Sunset Fireworks of Dittmer, Missouri arrived in Florida to speak with investigators. The company and its sister company, Pyro Products, have been the target of several federal investigations in recent years following deadly explosions at their plants.


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