Suspected P lab blows up

By Jonathan Marshall, Catherine Woulfe

Two men were left critically injured and more than a dozen staff from a nearby medical centre had to be decontaminated after an explosion yesterday at a suspected P lab.

The men, aged 34 and 35, were injured after chemicals detonated in a small shack in rural Wellsford, north of Auckland.

They suffered horrific burns to 40 per cent of their bodies - emergency staff reported they were in "serious pain", with burns to the chest, face, arms and across their hands.

Last night the men were in Middlemore Hospital's burns centre in intensive care.

The Herald on Sunday has learned that one of the men was from Wellsford and the other from north-west Auckland.

The explosion happened mid-morning yesterday in a portable building on a remote farm at the end of Waimanu Road, near Te Hana.

Toxic chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine are highly flammable and can be ignited by just a spark.

A woman nearby managed to get the men into a car and drove them to Wellsford Medical Centre.

The burns were severe and medical staff were confronted with serious injuries and ran out of basic medical equipment.

The local Four Square owner, Ken, said medical centre staff came rushing into the store to buy as much cling film as they could get, to wrap the badly-burned bodies of the two men. "We sold them two 90-metre rolls."

A rescue helicopter was called up, and carried both men south to Middlemore Hospital while firefighters dealt with the medical centre, which had become potentially hazardous as a result of the men being there.

All those who had dealt with the men had to strip and have their clothes destroyed. Paperwork was bundled into sealed bags and destroyed.

Constable Dale Blide, from Wellsford, said he hadn't seen such a large scale contamination problem. "The chopper, ambulance, anything that they came into contact with, had to be decontaminated.

"This is the other side of P - most people don't see. It's a very painful exercise."

Tim Malloy, spokesman for Wellsford Medical Centre, said the 16 staff who had to be decontaminated were confused but accepted going through the procedure.

"It put a lot of people at risk," he said. "We had some distressed staff and some very distressed patients."

Malloy said the two men didn't cause any problems at the centre. "Their health was such that they couldn't cause any trouble. They were in serious trouble themselves."

Westpac helicopter paramedic Dave Grimshaw said the two men were in a lot of pain when he arrived. "They were both critical. They had 30-40 per cent burns over their chest, face and arms and hands. They were in a lot of pain."

The helicopter and pilot, paramedic and crewman all had to be decontaminated.

Grimshaw said it was worrying to know he had been in contact with the toxins. "But you don't think about it too much as you're thinking about the patients at the time.

"Afterwards you think 'ohh wow'. But that's just part of the job you do. Unfortunately these incidents seem to be happening a bit more these days."

In the fallout, six St John staff were decontaminated - four at Wellsford, and two at Middlemore.

Three staff at the Wellsford Medical Centre, a nurse, doctor and receptionist, had to be decontaminated.

And, at Middlemore Hospital, another seven hospital staff had to go through decontamination procedures.

Middlemore Hospital spokeswoman Lauren Young said both men were in serious condition and being treated for third-degree burns.

"There is an expectation that they will survive. One went straight to the operating theatre after admission."

Detective Phillip Cox, of Helensville, said the woman who had dropped the men off was now talking to police.

"At this stage ... we have found what we believe to be a methampthetamine lab. If we confirm that meth had been manufactured there, then it certainly is not a place I would want to be living."

He said police would guard the scene overnight and begin a full-scale investigation this morning, assisted by ESR scientists.

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