TUESDAY UPDATE: VERLA COSMETICS INTERNATIONAL EXPLOSIONS & FIRE RESULTS IN DOZENS OF INJURIES, ONE EMPLOYEE’S BODY FOUND ON THE SITE LATE TUESDAY
By Edie Johnson
A massive response to at least two explosions and a pervasive fire at Verla cosmetics factory on Temple Hill Rd. likely prevented deaths and more serious injuries, though there were some serious burns and injuries that resulted. County officials noted that a second explosion occurred just as firefighters arrived.
At a 2 pm press conference a stage full of county and state officials reported there is one individual missing , and that numerous individuals were thrown to the floor from explosions, and a fire that also caused miscellaneous burns and vapor inhalation, at least two of which resulted in an airlift to Westchester Hospital’s burn unit. They do not at this time know of any deaths. Family of the one missing male individual has been contacted to try to affirm his whereabouts. All other employees are accounted for.
Present at the press conference was County Executive, Steve Neuhaus, New Windsor Supervisor, George Green, Senator Bill Larkin, Emergency Services Commissioner, Brendan Casey, Health Commissioner Dr. Eli Avila, as well as representatives from the state DEC, state and local fire commissioners, including some of the fire department members who had been fighting the fire for over 3 hours, and a dozen or so news agencies.
The press conference lasted about 25 minutes, with County Exec Neuhaus saying that officials and fire department members eager to return to the scene, where the fire was less intense but still ongoing.
Press representatives came from all over the area, filling up the front of the New Windsor Courtroom.
County Fire Coordinator Vinny Tankasala, said that Vail’s Gate Fire Department were the first to arrive, but eventually 30 departments including about 120 firemen came to their aid. Two firemen suffered serious burn injuries. Tankasala said that the wind was a factor in the firefight.
Newburgh City Manager, Michael Ciaravino noted that by 2 pm seven Newburgh firemen had been injured.
The massive fire response, ambulance and other area EMS personnel may have prevented numerous deaths as a triage area was set up to tend to the wounded. Reports at this time list variable casualty numbers, from an estimate of 30 to another of 80, serious but not life-threatening.
The fire was believed to have started in a back area of the building where manufacturing includes alcohol and other flammable materials.
A brief question and answer session included one person who noted that the company had received 15 OSHA violations last year. Officials said they had not been aware of violations but would look into it. Asked why a “Shelter in Place” was ordered by the county, officials said that it was ordered “out of an abundance of caution” due to possible toxic fumes from the smoke being spread by some windy conditions.
The DEC noted that water and foam from the firefighting effort was being collected in canisters at the rear of the property in an effort to prevent it from entering Silver Stream where it might have caused infiltration into the drinking water resources. However, they added that the manufacturing plant is downstream from the water source and toxic flow into the water would not likely be a problem, particularly since most is being safely disposed of.