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Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

BELLE CHASSE, La. - The day after a dangerous reaction at a chemical plant shut down parts of Belle Chasse, officials said the threat is over.

Evacuation orders have been lifted, and the Mississippi River has reopened. Now, authorities are working to figure out what happened, while neighbors try to get back to some sense of normalcy.

After spending the night evacuated in a Red Cross shelter, Andrew Hicks wanted just one thing.

'To get home and get in my bed and sleep all day today,' said Hicks, who lives a few blocks from the Sun Drilling Products Plant.

Hicks was one of hundreds evacuated after a chemical reaction at the Sun Drilling Plant sparked the threat of an explosion. Louisiana State Police said the center of the threat was a heated 2,000 gallon tank filled with a hazardous material called divinylbenezene.

Crews spent the night pumping a chemical stabilizer into the tank and said the public threat was over before evacuations were lifted around 10 a.m. Saturday.

'Everything's safe,' said Guy Laigast, director of emergency management for Plaquemines Parish. 'Public safety is foremost in our forefront before we release people to come in. We know it was an inconvenience and we apologize for that, but the safety is the utmost.'

On its website, Sun Drilling said it believes a direct lightning strike to the building sparked the chemical reaction, but the state police hazmat team is still investigating the cause and doesn't believe lightning was a factor. Authorities also don't believe there was a chemical fire, as parish officials initially reported. Instead, they believe the thick smoke around the plant Friday afternoon stemmed from nitrogen that firefighters used to cool the tank.

According to state police, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency found no harmful chemicals in the air.

But neighbors like Hicks said their health was affected. Hicks sought medical care and spent several hours on a breathing machine directly after the chemical reaction began.

'Chest pains, hard to breath, throat was sore,' said Hicks. 'Right now I'm just hanging in there a little bit. Still feeling kind of woozy. I'm okay.'

Some frustrated neighbors believe Sun Drilling didn't do enough to keep them informed.

'I'm more than disappointed. That hurt me to my core being,' said Harriet Hamilton. 'Here in Plaquemines Parish, we're all family. We treat each other like family. If my family treated me like this, I don't want them as family, I'm sorry. I don't want them in my parish. They can pack up and leave.'

Meanwhile, Rodger Wheaton, an attorney for Sun Drilling Products said in a statement, 'Sun is cooperating with all local and state authorities to determine the full extent and impact of the event.'

Wheaton said Sun Drilling is working with authorities to find out the incident's full impact.

The company has set up a hotline to file a claim. You can call 866-837-5012 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week.

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