ATWATER (CBS13) – A deadly tanker truck explosion shocked people in Atwater on Tuesday morning.
The California Highway Patrol says the truck overturned while exiting Highway 99 southbound onto Applegate Road.
“In my nine-year career, it’s one of the worst one’s I’ve seen,” said Eric Zuniga with California Highway Patrol.
The explosion happened just after 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The truck driver died in the fiery crash and Atwater Mayor Jim Price confirmed the driver worked for Williams Tank Line in Stockton.
Now CHP’s Merced Division is investigating what led up to the explosion. Video taken moments after shows several people panicking and running away from the flames. They heard a loud blast, but many had no idea what had just happened.
“Based on the picture we got, it caught fire right away,” Zuniga said.
The Atwater Police Department posted pictures on Facebook and warned drivers to avoid the area. The CHP blocked off about a half mile of road not knowing if more explosions were on the way.
Nearly 250 people were evacuated from the area. A nearby McDonald’s caught fire in the blast, but it was later contained. It’s unclear how much gas leaked, but officials at the scene say the drainage system in the area is now contaminated with fuel.
Once the flames finally died down, only charred bits of the truck remained. Price is now concerned about the asphalt on the road badly damaged by the fuel.
“There is talk that is going to have to be removed,” Price said. “Two reasons, one is the integrity of the asphalt. The other one is that there could be possibly some fuel contamination beneath that.”
Students rehearsing their graduation at Atwater Valley Community School were placed on lockdown and later evacuated from campus. No students were injured but graduation has been rescheduled for next week due to air quality in the area.