Amid a week of tragedy, hope fills burned out Carbide Industries after fires extinguished

Louisville, KY - It was an encouraging sight Friday amid a week of tragedy at the Rubbertown Carbide Industries plant: a person emerging from one of the doors on the upper level of the furnace room which has been more like a tower of doom this week.

"The mood is cautiously optimistic," said plant manager John Gant. "The damage is severe, but not as much as we thought. Everyone's anxious to get back to work and rebuild and get back to business."

While investigators continue to guard the furnace room, the fire is out; firefighters were able to get inside just before noon Thursday to force the mineral oil fire to burn its last flame.

"Pretty uneventful when they went out," Grant said. "Just kind of the end of that phase of the disaster."

The stability of the furnace tower - which was built in the 1960s - isn't known, so crews are very limited to what they can do inside to investigate, but they were able to find a crucial piece of the puzzle as to what caused this deadly explosion.

"Thursday arson investigators were able to recover a couple of computers from our control room," Grant said. "There's a lot of data on those computers that will tell us exactly what was happening prior to the explosion."

In the meantime, about a dozen workers are back on the job in other parts of the campus, scrambling to fill orders. All 125 workers will be paid, the plant manager says, until they can rebuild the plant, which has been operating in Rubbertown since 1941.

"A lot of equipment in there we need to check out to see if it's repairable or operational so it's going to be about a week or so before we actually know the extent of the damage and the extent of the rebuilding," Gant said.

In the coming days, investigators from the arson squad and OSHA, among others, will clear the scene, fully turning over the furnace room to Carbide Industries.

Company officials estimate they have about a ton of carbide substance inside the furnace room that will have to be cleaned out. While that is expected to take some time, the finalized reports from the government agencies is also expected to take some time to complete: up to two years.

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