NEW ORLEANS -- Hazmat crews responded Thursday to the scene of a powerful explosion and fire at a petro chemical plant up river.
There is one person confirmed dead, 29-year-old Zachary C. Green of Hammond, and dozens of injured workers.
Black smoke continues to rise from the Williams Olefins plant. We are told this is controlled flaring as crews burn off dangerous chemicals at the plant.
Dark smoke could be seen miles away, rising from the Williams Olefins in Geismar, one of the many petro chemical plants that line the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
“I saw fire about 200 to 300 feet in the air, right in the little wood area where was,” said witness Randy Madere.
Madere was working at a construction site next door to the plant around 8:30 a.m., when there was a sudden explosion and fire.
“It was a big old boom,” Madere said. “That’s what it did. It was a big old explosion. It shook the ground; it rocked the ground and all real good. It looked like a mess out there.”
One worker died in the blast and 77 others went to local hospitals with burns and a variety of injuries.
“It’s an industry that practices safety every second of every day, but regrettably things do happen,” said Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley.
By mid-afternoon, crews stabilized the situation at the plant. They determined the explosion happened in a unit that produces a highly flammable gas known as propylene – one of the basic building blocks used in the petro chemical industry.
Gov. Bobby Jindal toured the damage Thursday afternoon.
“I think it’s too early to speculate what actually caused the explosion,” Jindal said. “But, we do know the plant had been approved for an expansion. We do know they were ion some sort of turn-around at this time.
Early tests did not indicate dangerous levels of chemicals around the plant.
“There is no indication of any offsite impact,” Wiley said.
But local residents were asked to shelter in place and some of the neighboring plants evacuated.
The Louisiana DEQ has set up an extensive system of monitoring in the area.
Investigators believe most of the propylene burned off before leaving the 25-acre plant site.