Rell asks federal judge to lead inquiry into Middletown disaster

Gov. M. Jodi Rell today named retired U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas to lead a multi-agency inquiry into the explosion that killed five workers Sunday at a power plant under construction in Middletown.

A congressional committee also intends to hold a public hearing into the disaster, according to members of the state’s congressional delegatin.

Nevas will lead a panel of state agencies, including the Office of the State Fire Marshal, that will determine the cause of the explosion at the Kleen Energy power plant, Rell said.

A second group will review the accident with an eye toward revising state laws and safety regulations.

“There are so many unanswered questions: What led to this disaster? What were the contributing factors? Could anything have been done to prevent it? These are the questions that we must answer now, not only for the sake of the victims and their families but to avoid tragedies like this in the future,” Rell said.

The second panel will chaired by James “Skip” Thomas, the recently retired commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security

“Our response to the Middletown explosion must follow two distinct but critical paths,” Rell said. “We must first identify what went wrong and then determine every measure we can take to prevent future catastrophes. The reviews must be thorough, impartial and swift.”

A spokesman for the federal Chemical Safety Board, which sent investigators to the scene, could not immediately be reached to say how the state and federal investigations would be coordinated.

Meanwhile, U.S. Reps. John B. Larson, Joe Courtney and Rosa DeLauro jointly announced today that the House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing at their request. Courtney is a member of the committee.

Their statement:

“Our first commitment is to ensure that the families of those who lost their lives and the well-being of those who were injured are provided the resources they need.”

“However, it is imperative that we review what went wrong and to make sure that all appropriate measures are put in place to prevent this type of catastrophe from happening again.”