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A natural gas explosion Tuesday morning sent a 60,000-pound boiler tank through a wall and onto railroad tracks outside the Whitlock Packaging Corp. in Lakeland, FL.

Kevin Cook, spokesman for the city of Lakeland, said the explosion occurred shortly before 8 a.m. in a boiler room that housed three of the 4,000-gallon tanks.

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Whitlock uses natural gas to heat the boilers, which produce steam to power the plant for bottling purposes, he said.

Bart Lewis, human resources manager for Whitlock, said the company bottles non- carbonated juices and teas at that location. Whitlock also has bottling locations in New Jersey and Oklahoma, according to its website.

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Lewis said employees don’t regularly work in that immediate area, but maintenance personnel did check on the three boilers earlier Tuesday morning. Everything appeared fine, he said.

Lakeland fire officials had all power and gas to the building shut off, and were taking precautions after noticing a second boiler still inside the building appeared to have structural damage.

Lewis said all three tanks had good pressure and were functioning Tuesday morning. The boiler that shot through the wall had about 2,000 gallons of water in it at the time, he said.

CSX Corp. used a crane to lift the 26-foot-by-12-foot cylinder off the railroad tracks, which appeared bent. Damages were not immediately available as crews worked through the afternoon to assess the track damage.

As of Tuesday afternoon, fire crews had cleared the scene for a state fire marshal and Lakeland fire investigators to start looking into the cause of the blast.

However, because of visible structure damage, Cook said nothing official can occur until Whitlock has the building inspected by a structural engineer.

After that, he said, crews should have a better estimate of how much damage the explosion caused.

There were no injuries in the blast. Lewis said Whitlock bought the plant in August 2004 and has about 125 regular employees at that location. About 90 were working at the time and he said it’s a miracle no one was near the boilers.

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