A 49-year-old man from Cordova remains missing after an explosion and fire aboard a barge rocked the port of Whittier, Alaska, just before midnight on July 8. Sources informing the Coast Guard reported a leaking propane tank aboard the barge, according to Manda Norcross, spokeswoman with the Coast Guard’s 17th District in Juneau.
The barge and the 99-foot F/V Alaganik both sank at the dock. Firefighters contained the blaze just before 3 a.m. While officials continue investigating the cause of the explosion and fire, the search for the missing person was suspended shortly after midnight on July 9. The Coast Guard could not confirm whether the missing person was working on the Alaganik.
“Originally, there was a report that there were two missing persons,” says Norcross. “But a later search found [one of them] on another boat, safe with his family.”
Norcross said a propane tank that had been leaking exploded aboard the barge exploded causing the fire, which spread to the Alaganik and nearby buildings and vehicles. On July 9, the Delong Dock remained closed, pending inspections to determine structural damage. There is a 1,000-yard safety zone around the area.
The fishing vessel and barge sank in 85 feet of water at the pier with a maximum of 5,500 gallons of fuel oil aboard. Norcross noted that sources reported there was no product onboard the Alaganik but could not confirm if the 99-footer was tendering salmon. The Alaganik’s owners have contracted Global Diving and Salvage for clean-up and salvage efforts.
According to Kelly Bender, who owns a charter business out of Whittier, the initial explosion occurred around 11:45 p.m. She says it appeared to happen on a boat tied to the dock used to off-load fish. She said people in the area with boats and pumps were called to help extinguish the fire. There was a voluntary evacuation order for nearby Whittier Manor.
Another witness, Ellen Dilley, evacuated, adding that the tunnel was open for those wanting to leave and for emergency crews coming into Whittier. The tunnel is the only road in and out of Whittier.
The city of Whittier said in a press release that the Anton Anderson Fire Response Team, Girdwood Fire Department and the Whittier Volunteer Fire Department responded to the fire. The State Fire Marshal was expected in Whittier early on Monday.
Delong Dock has been closed until damage is assessed and the investigation is complete.