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Plant shut for inspection

JAY BOREHAM
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2013
Wiri
CREEPS: Gaylene Norwood says she’s freaked out by every explosion and waits for the worst to happen as her workplace shakes around her.

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A scrap metal recycler has been forbidden to turn its machines back on until government inspectors are satisfied its processes are safe.

A blast at National Steel's plant rocked South Auckland last Wednesday, shaking houses in a 5km radius around the Wiri site.

Emergency services rushed to the site after receiving dozens of calls from frightened residents across Manukau.

A fireball and a mushroom cloud of smoke were seen throughout the area.

The blast set fire to a building next to machinery shredding car bodies and other scrap metal for export.

The fire service quickly controlled the blaze and says the half a dozen workers at the site were lucky to escape unharmed.

It is understood the explosion was caused by a full LPG canister going through the shredder.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment issued a prohibition notice against National Steel after the explosion and has prohibited the use of machinery linked to the explosion.

The notice will remain until investigators are satisfied the machinery and its processes are safe, a ministry spokesman says.

He says it would be inappropriate to comment further with investigations under way but confirmed it was not the first time the ministry has had dealings with the company since it started operating in March 2011.

Residents and businesses in the area have been complaining to the Auckland Council about explosions at National Steel since then, Gaylene Norwood says.

She works at a business two doors down from the scrapyard and says "the whole building shakes," whenever there's an explosion.

Staff jump out of their skins with every blast, she says.

"It gives you the creeps because you are waiting for something else to happen."

The Manurewa Local Board has been working with businesses after complaints about frightened and stressed staff and damaged buildings throughout the industrial area.

But its hands are tied because of the industrial zoning of the area, chairwoman Angela Dalton says.

"Under the Resource Management Act what they are doing is compliant."

The board and businesses are now discussing with council officers if there are any options under the act's nuisance clauses that could be enforced, Ms Dalton says.

But National Steel director Roshan Nauhria says the blast is no big deal and did no damage.

He says the facility was designed to handle the odd explosion.

"It is not a good thing to happen but we are fully doing our best.

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"Sometimes somebody misses something," he says.

Mr Nauhria expects the company to be up and running again as soon as the investigation is finished.

Fire Service senior officer Robert Watson describes the issue as "a storm in a teacup".

"The bang was significant but it is not as dramatic as it sounds."

He says similar explosions happen in the scrap industry all the time. "But at other sites we don't get called to them because no one is around to hear the bang."

- Manukau Courier

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