Fuel tanker explosion kills driver, City of Atwater must rebuild

Potential fuel contamination shuts down nearby businesses

ATWATER, Calif. - CHP says a fiery accident took the life of a truck driver in Atwater. The gas tanker hit the median coming off Highway 99 and turned over on Applegate Road. The explosion caused a huge fire just feet away from nearby businesses.

For crews, the focus is now on drains contaminated with fuel from Tuesday's fatal explosion.

"Our guests had actually seen the fire first and they let us know and I dialed 911," said Metta Xiong, an employee at Panda Express.

A burst of flames, right outside the Panda Express on Applegate Road.

"And then I just looked back and that flame had engulfed so fast," said Xiong.

Xiong says she took video of the scene seconds after a fuel tanker exploded.

"I was on the phone with 911 trying to tell them what was going on and just making sure all of our associates were out," said Xiong.

Xiong says she immediately ran out of the building along with co-workers and customers, trying to get safety.

"You would have never expected anything like this would happen," said Xiong.

Atwater Mayor Jim Price says Cal Trans crews want to make sure all hazardous material is removed from the drainage system in the area before nearby businesses can open up again.

"The problem that we're going to have is that this access route that they had to those businesses is going to have to be rerouted around the backside of this AMPM market," said Price.

PG&E workers evaluated the the scene after the fire destroyed multiple transformers. Price says asphalt on the charred must be replaced.

"There is talk that that is going to have to be removed. Two reasons. One is the integrity of the asphalt. The other one is it could be possibly some fuel contamination beneath that," said Price.

Through the fiery mess and mangled remains of this truck, the victim is  yet to be identified. Mayor Price says he believes the driver worked for Williams Tank Lines based in Stockton. Hours after fleeing the flames, Xiong says she is thankful to be safe and with her family.

"I'm thankful that I'm still here and a lot of other people are able to go home and my heart goes out to the family of the trucker who lost his life today."

Mayor Price says it could take a couple of days before businesses here on Applegate Road can reopen.


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