Family and friends of man killed in ‘violent explosion’ at Newburyport facility speak out

NEWBURYPORT, Mass — Family and friends are remembering the man who was killed in a violent explosion at the Newburyport manufacturing facility early Thursday morning

The family of 61-year-old Jack O’Keefe of Methuen describes him as a die-hard family man and an Army veteran.

O-Keefe’s friend and neighbor, Gregory Kaelin, spent the day with O’Keefe’s two adult children while crews were searching for his body. “They are stunned as we all are,” said Kaelin who also has family who works with O’Keefe. “My brother was there. He got hurt. All four ran from their different stations. With the chemicals taking air away. It is hazardous,” said Kaelin.

O’Keefe was one of five who were in the building at the time of the explosion. Four other workers were taken to local hospitals, where they were treated and released.

Firefighters in Newburyport responded to Seqens, a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility at 9 Opportunity Way just after 12:45 a.m. on Thursday.

Upon arrival, crews saw heavy fire and smoke coming from the building. They saw an industrial-sized vat from inside the building had moved about 30 feet because of the explosion and caused it to land in a nearby parking lot.

There was major structural damage to the building, preventing firefighters and rescue crews from going inside until Thursday evening. Newburyport firefighters and Hazmat workers remained at the scene throughout the night and removed dangerous substances from inside the badly damaged building Friday morning.

Around four dozen large barrels containing acetone, methanol, and isopropyl alcohol were taken out of the building Friday morning.

Video obtained by Boston 25 News captures the moment the building exploded, blasting roaring flames that lit up the night sky.

A crane operator was brought in Friday morning to help shore up metal support beams as crews worked.

This is the same building where a series of explosions happened in February 2020. Several explosions occurred at PCI Synthesis. No injuries were reported in that incident.

25 Investigates has found that Newburyport pharmaceutical chemical company Seqens has racked up at least $168,000 in federal fines for its lengthy record of violating safety laws dating back to 2015 – including for failing to meet federal standards for emergency response and safe handling of hazardous materials.

“We are deeply saddened to report that a long-time member of our PCI family died during the accident. The entire group and its employees are extremely shocked,” said the parent company of Seqens, PCI Synthesis. “The safety of our employees has always been, and continues to be, our top priority. We strive to follow best practices and regulatory guidelines and have implemented safety protocols and procedures to prevent incidents like this from occurring. We are fully committed to working closely with the authorities and relevant agencies to determine the cause of the incident.”

Local and state crews worked all day securing the building and testing nearby water and soil to make sure anything hazardous was contained. “The air quality was a concern initially, but it faded fast. The wind was blowing strong,” said Acting Deputy Fire Chief Barry Salt.

The company said they are working with investigators to try to figure out exactly what went wrong.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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