HOUSTON, (Xinhua): One person was confirmed dead and 77 more injured in an explosion that rocked a chemical plant in the U.S. state of Louisiana Thursday, local officials said.
The blast happened around 8:30 a.m. at Williams Olefins plant in Geismar, about 20 miles (about 32 kilometers) southeast of Baton Rouge, the state capital of Louisiana, and ignited a fire which lasted for hours.
One person was found dead by rescue crews checking the aftermath of the blast at the facility, State Police spokesman Doug Cain said. The victim was identified as Zachary C. Green, a 29-year-old man. It’s not certain if he was an employee with the plant.
A total of 77 people were also injured in the explosion, the Department of Health and Hospitals said in a latest updated report. State Governor Bobby Jindal earlier said at a press conference the number of the injured was 73.
It appeared that most of them suffered only minor injuries. Local hospitals said at least three of the victims were in critical condition while 51 of them have already been discharged.
Residents said they heard the explosion miles away and saw plumes of dense black smoke billowing from the site. TV footage showed a huge fireball was formed after the explosion occurred and panicked workers were running for life.
It was reported that around 600 plant employees and contractors were at the scene when the incident happened. Governor Jindal said every one of them was accounted for and that only 10 of them remained in a safe room in the plant to keep flaring operations running and shut down the plant.
Roads near the facility were blocked and residents were told to stay indoors with doors and windows closed, though early tests did not indicate dangerous levels of any chemicals around the plant.
It is still unknown what caused the explosion. Governor Jindal promised to launch an investigation soon to determine the reason.
The plant owned by The Williams Companies Inc. manufactures ethylene and polymer grade propylene. Ethylene is a colorless and flammable gas widely used in the chemicals industry.
Jindal said the plant had been approved for an expansion project and was in “turnaround,” where a unit is taken offline for expansion or renovation work. The Williams plant was reported to have had some problems in the past in complying with safety regulations.
The blast in Louisiana came two months after another deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, on April 17. In that incident, 15 people died and a significant portion of the town was damaged by the explosion.