1 dead, 73 hurt in La. plant explosion

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by STACEY PLAISANCE

Associated press & WWLTV.com

Posted on June 13, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 13 at 4:22 PM

GEISMAR, La. -- A ground-rattling explosion at a chemical plant in Louisiana ignited a blaze that killed at least one person and injured dozens of others.        

Louisiana's health department says 73 people were treated at hospitals for injuries ranging from minor to critical following the Thursday morning explosion.

State police Capt. Doug Cain says a body was found by hazardous materials crews going through the aftermath of the blast at the facility owned by The Williams Companies Inc., based in Tulsa, Okla.

There were as many as 600 workers in the plant at the time of the explosion, said State Police Capt. Doug Cain. Cain says all workers had been accounted for by Thursday afternoon.

A contract worker, Daniel Cuthbertson, 34, described a scene of "mass hysteria" immediately after the explosion, with workers scrambling over gates to get out of the plant.

"God was with me today because I know when I looked back, I barely made it. I know somebody was hurt. There's no way everybody escaped that," said Cuthbertson, who was interviewed at an emergency staging area about 2 miles from the plant.

State Sen. Troy Brown said the ground shook at his house, several miles from the plant.

"It felt like a three-second earthquake. It was a massive explosion," Brown said.

He drove to a nearby gas station and saw flames 100 to 200 feet high.

"It was scary," he said.

The explosion was reported to police at about 8:30 a.m., and as of 10:50 a.m., officials believed the fire was contained and the situation stable, WAFB reported. Louisiana State Police said there was still a threat of a secondary explosion.

By 1 p.m., State Police said the fire from the explosion was extinguished and under control of the hazardous materials crew sent to the scene.

The company sent out a news release saying the emergency shut-down valves were closed and the unit isolated.

The release from the stack is reported to be residual propylene, which is generating the smoke, according to the DEQ.

Family members or employer personnel seeking information about potential victims can call 1-866-380-2303 or (225) 387-7767.

Williams annually produces approximately 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of polymer grade propylene, according to the company’s website.

Products from the facility are responsible for the ethane transportation business consisting of approximately 200 miles of pipelines, as well as a refinery-grade propylene splitter. The ethylene is used in the production of plastics.

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