First responders react to 'harrowing' explosion

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wwltv.com

Posted on June 13, 2013 at 6:39 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 13 at 9:42 PM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

GONZALES, La. -- One person is dead and dozens of others are recovering from a deadly plant explosion near the Ascension-Iberville parish line.

What sparked the blast at the Williams Olefins plant in Geismar is still under investigation.

The blast was a harrowing experience for workers who thought it was just going to be another day on the job.

“When we seen all the smoke, I knew it wasn’t a drill then,” said first responder Michael Rarick.

The billowing smoke could been seen for miles after an explosion rocked the plant, killing one worker from Hammond and injuring 77 others.

Rarick rushed to the scene.

“When we heard it was two explosions. We didn’t know what we had or gonna have. We were set up for the worst. That’s all I can say,” Rarick said.

Officials confirm that the explosion happened in a unit that produces propylene, which experts say is a highly burning flammable used regularly in the petro chemical industry. Gov. Bobby Jindal addressed the media about a half mile from the plant.

“Obviously, we got a lot of folks that are still working within the plant to assess the situation here,” Jindal said. “There will be further investigations afterward to determine what happened and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Those who weren’t airlifted or rushed by ambulance to local hospitals were driven to this temporary shelter in Gonzales where Red Cross volunteers offered support to 75 or so workers. Hours later some workers were bussed back to the plant while family and friends drove to pick up their loved ones.

“You don’t know what to think,” said relative Jacob Burch. “We took off down here we live three hours from here.”

It was a harrowing ordeal for workers who officials say were in the middle of a turn-around just before the explosion.

Some workers say gas could be smelt for days near the site of this morning’s blast felt by Randy Madere, who was working nearby.

“It was a big old boom,” he said. “That’s what it did. I was a big explosion. It shook the ground; it rocked the ground and all real good. It looked like a mess out there.”

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley says the facility is still staffed. However, production won’t kick back up -- at least not first thing Friday -- while investigators continue to figure out what exactly happened.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is continuing to monitor air levels in the area.

 

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