Employees of Kleen Rite Dry Cleaners yesterday described the gas delivery driver as a hero after he alerted them to danger moments before an explosion and the fire.
Speaking with the T&T Guardian yesterday, Cheryl Ann Joseph, who has been employed at the company for the past 14 years, said she along with the other workers all knew the driver, identified only as Mr Neville, very well.
"He has been coming here for years and we never had a problem with him. In fact, on almost all the occasions we have seen him checking to make sure that everything is good and safe before refuelling of the tanks are done. If he thought something was not done correctly or whatever wrong he would say and try his best to make things right," Joseph said.
The driver, who is an employee of North Plant LPG Limited, Gaston Street, Chaguanas, was confirmed to be the delivery driver at two explosion scenes–one last year, on February 5, at El Pecos, in Maraval, and the other at Kleen Rite on Thursday.
The confirmation came from an official at the gas company to CNC3.
T&T Guardian was told by one of the workers, who asked not to be identified, that earlier that day (Thursday) a man came to service the tanks.
"Apparently, PVC fittings were used and when Neville came he pointed it out. Neville also said that he was smelling gas very strong and upon checks discovered that there was a leak. I think that it was at that point that Neville knew something was not right and things were about to get worse when he ran inside and shouted 'gas, gas' and that everyone should run for their lives," the worker said.
Yesterday, at about 1 pm, workers began gathering at the adjacent NP gas station's compound waiting to see their boss, Solomon Ali. However, they were told that he was not coming and that he had sent their pay packets.
"I really thought that we would have seen Mr Ali today because we are so looking forward to talk with him. I'm a bit disappointed," Joseph said.
"Mr Ali is a kind man and is very good to us but it is sad that he has not spoken to us up to now (yesterday afternoon)," she said.
"Yes, we know what he is going through right now, especially that his wife got very deep cuts and is hospitalised but Mr Ali should show a little more care towards us because we are the ones who worked in dedication for him and now we are left without jobs," said another worker.
Another worker, Sade O'Bradley, who is pregnant, said that she has been working with the dry cleaners for over 14 years and was sad to see the establishment, which is over 35 years old, go up in flames.
"It is a sad day for all. We have a clientele of thousands and they have been calling and lending their support. At the end of the day, no lives were lost but at the same time we are all left without jobs and an uncertain future due to this tragedy," O'Bradley said.
Fire Sub Officer Ishmael Noel who was a part of the team of fire officials that visited the scene, yesterday, said that it was too early in their investigations to disclose information.
"What we did here today was carry out an inspection but while we, the fire officials, will lead the investigations to finding the cause we would need to depend on other agencies to step in," Noel said.
Thursday's explosion not only destroyed Kleen Rite but also affected the nearby Sherwin Williams paint shop and a small business company, Small Engine Services Limited.
In a brief interview yesterday, Ali said that the incident was devastating and was trying to regain his composure. He said his wife, Sabrina Ali, was still recuperating from her injuries at hospital.
Several attempts were made to contact Kerry Maharaj, the managing director of North Plant LPG, on the issue but he was unavailable.
North Plant LPG is the supplier for 17-20 per cent of the LPG market. The other 80 per cent is held by Ramco. An official of Ramco, Lochan Samsundar, told the GML Enterprise Desk that there were clear guidelines from the Ministry of Energy on the procedure for refilling. These include that before filling a tank the provider needs to ensure that the tank is properly certified or recertified for use. The stamp with the date indicating this is usually at the top of the tank on the shroud which protects the tank.
National Petroleum said it also has a checklist and issues safety certificates to LPG distributors when their trucks pass inspections. However, NP explained that LPG distributors are fully responsible for the conduct and operation of their business operations.
The general inspection of LPG equipment and ensuring compliance with safety requirements are the remit of the Ministry of Energy, the only authority with such powers.