Homes and businesses in Euharlee and Taylorsville shook just before 4 p.m. Thursday when Unit 2 of the plant’s four coal burning units exploded as it was being brought down for a maintenance outage.
The blast tore metal panels from the powerhouse walls leaving a gaping hole visible from Covered Bridge Road, yet only four minor injuries were sustained and no life-threatening injuries were reported. Of the four injured, three were treated on site and one was transported to a hospital before being released.
“We had a few minor injuries reported, nothing serious or life-threatening,” said Georgia Power Spokesperson Jacob Hawkins. “I don’t have any details on what specifically the incident was, just that there was an incident that caused them to shut down Unit 2 as well as the other three units at the plant.
“We’re still investigating the incident, determining what the cause was and making sure everything is safe for the employees.”
Bartow County Fire Chief and interim Emergency Management Director Craig Millsap oversaw the initial response effort, including the rescue of an employee trapped in an elevator and the inspection of air quality. Millsap also was able to confirm that the explosion occurred within a generator, not a turbine as initially reported Thursday.
“Our joint hazardous materials team, made up of us and the city of Cartersville, did come and do air monitoring and then the Georgia Search and Rescue Task Force 6 came and helped along with our assets as we got the person trapped in the elevator out. There were no major injuries, I believe that person was transferred just for a precautionary measure,” Millsap said. “All the air monitoring tests was OK. We do not feel there is any threat to the surrounding area. Everything is being turned over to Georgia Power and their emergency response personnel and they will be handling everything from here on out.”
Outside the roadblocks that surrounded Plant Bowen, however, emotions ran high in the moments that followed the blast as neighbors and family members waited to hear about those inside.
A service station at the corner of Ga. Highway 113 and Covered Bridge Road served as a staging area for emergency crews from Polk County while Bartow County first responders secured the scene. Among those waiting to hear from family was Cody Coleman whose brother was at work on the coal line when the explosion occurred.
“My brother works out there, that’s why I came out,” Coleman said. “I just hope everyone is OK.”
Coleman gathered with family and strangers in a prayer for the safety and protection of those in the plant just moments before he was reunited with his brother. Non-essential personnel were released from the plant after a head count found that all full-time and contract employees were accounted for.
Just down the road, within the shadow of Plant Bowen, workers at the Tri-County Cotton Gin continued their work despite the explosion that shook their building. Cotton gin employees reported that the shockwave was so strong that open doors on their shop slammed closed, presumably from the concussion.
On Old Stilesboro Road, Margaret Ward stood on her front porch as family called to see if she was OK, knowing well she and her husband Tom live only a stone’s throw from the plant. Inside their home, picture frames hung crooked Thursday shaken from the blast — as was she.
“It shook the whole house,” Margaret Ward said. “It’s nerve-wracking because we’re pretty close.
“I’m still shaking it scared me that bad.”
After the dust settled officials assured area residents that the scene was under control and there was no danger to the public. Georgia Power reported no outages in relation to the explosion and expects no interruption of service going forward.
A phone line was established shortly after the incident for family members to check on their loved ones. That number is 706-266-9902.