BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, June 13, 2013 (ENS) – A large explosion and fire at a petrochemical plant in the industrial district of Geismar, Louisiana Thursday morning has claimed the life of a worker at the plant, and 73 others were taken to area hospitals as a result of the incident.

The explosion occurred at 8:37 am local time; Louisiana State Police said at 12:30 pm that the fire in the plant was extinguished.

Geismar fire

Fire at the Williams Geismar Olefins plant, June 13, 2013 (Photo by Cesar Cardona)

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said in a news conference at 2 pm local time that all of the more than 300 workers in the plant at the time of the explosion have been accounted for and the threat from the fire has been lifted.

“I want to praise the brave first responders who responded to this,” Governor Jindal said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the workers and their families.”

The explosion and fire occurred at the Williams Geismar Olefins plant in Ascension Parish, about a mile from the Mississippi River. The plant is 60 miles northwest of New Orleans and 22 miles south of the state capital Baton Rouge.

First responders arrived from the Louisiana State Police, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, several fire departments, hazardous material teams and parish homeland security, as well as the Gonzales Police Department and Fire Department, from just seven miles away.

A shelter in place order given for residents in a two mile radius around the accident scene has now been lifted. Major roads to the area were closed.

The Williams Olefins plant, opened in 1999, produces two widely-used explosive compounds, propylene and ethylene. The facility in the town produces about 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of propylene a year, says the petrochemical company’s website.

Williams Olefins stated at 1 pm local time, “We are currently focused on the safety and well-being of our employees, contractors and the local community who are responding to the situation. Emergency shut-down valves have been closed. The unit is isolated.”

“Our emergency-response crews are thoroughly trained to respond to these types of incidents and are diligently performing their work with their first priority being the safety and well-being of people in and around the area.”

“We are in the process of accounting for all personnel,” Williams Olefins said in their statement. “Injuries have been reported, the number and extent of those injuries is not known at this point.”

While the fire caused by the explosion is out, a state police Hazmat unit is conducting a controlled burn at the plant.

“The chemicals are burning off,” Sgt. J.B. Slaton of the Louisiana State Police told Baton Rouge television station WVLA. “They’re not leaving a compound, they’re not going into the air, they’re burning off.”

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality reports that air quality tests show no signs of contamination.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined, said Slaton.

Governor Jindal emphasized that a full investigation will be conducted to determine what caused the fire.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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