Tanker slams into Long Island business, sparks massive fire, shuts down Sunrise Highway

ROCKVILLE CENTRE, Nassau County (WABC) -- A tanker crashed into the front of a Rockville Centre business early Wednesday, sparking a huge fire and shutting down Sunrise Highway for the morning commute.

The driver of the tanker, carrying approximately 9,200 gallons of gasoline, lost control at North Centre Avenue around 1:10 a.m.

The vehicle overturned and crashed into the front of a vacant storefront that until recently housed a La-Z-Boy showroom.

The tanker went up in flames, which quickly spread to the business. Burning gas also spread into the local sewer system.

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The tanker, reportedly carrying gasoline, lost control on Sunrise Highway at North Centre Avenue at around 1:20 a.m.


"There was fire coming out seven or eight manhole covers all the way down about a quarter mile down Sunrise Highway," Rockville Centre Fire Chief James Avondet said. "It was one of the worst things I've seen in my 47-year career."

Witness Naireka Lauture tells Eyewitness News she heard a total of five explosions.

"It was really scary, because you don't know how the fire is going to spread or where it's going to go," she said.

The driver was able to escape the tanker before the flames erupted, and a Rockville Centre police officer found him lying in the street and pulled him to safety.

Medics took him to nearby Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, where he was evaluated for injuries believed to be minor.

Three firefighters were also evaluated following the incident, two of them at the hospital. All three were treated and released by 10 a.m.

"We're very glad if it was going to happen, it happened at 1 o'clock in the morning when nobody was around," Avondet said.

The state Department of Conservation continues to monitor the gas spill through the sewer system, but it is not affecting residents.

The gas also seeped into Mill River nearby, right where it meets Smith Pond, and contractors were working throughout the day to contain it.

"There's no threat to any of the citizens or any homes," Nassau County Fire Marshal Chief Michael Uttaro said. "We're working with the Coast Guard right now, they're going to map the spill to make sure we have everything accounted for."

Roughly 500 homes and many businesses in Rockville Centre's commercial corridor were without power.

Two schools, St. Agnes Cathedral School and Riverside Elementary School, were also without power and were both closed Wednesday.

Officials say Sunrise Highway was expected to be closed from North Centre Avenue to North Park Avenue until around midnight for fire department operations, and the DOT will assess the road before it can reopen.

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Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said he had hoped the road would reopen by the evening commute, but operations are now expected to take a little longer.

As the investigation proceeds, detectives have begun questioning the driver and reaching out to the owner of the tanker to gather information about what led to the crash.

"Detectives from the Nassau County Police Department are conducting an investigation," Blakeman said. "They are questioning the driver, and also they are reaching out to the owners of the gasoline tanker."

Blakeman said there are "a lot of cameras in the area" that officials will be reviewing recorded images and footage.

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