Plant explosion in Geismar sparks massive blaze; 1 fatality, multiple injuries

Photo submitted to NBC33 News from an employee inside the plant during the fire.

POSTED: Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 8:28am

UPDATED: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 9:29am

Over 300 employees were evacuated after an explosion at the Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar. Although this is an industrial area, residents nearby are asked to “shelter in place.”

The explosion happened at the plant located on Highway 3115 in St. Gabriel shortly after 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 13. Witnesses inside the plant told NBC33 News they heard two explosions, and then saw a fireball that went as high as 300 feet in the air. They say the force was so strong it shook neighboring plants.

Officials say the main fire has been extinguished. At this time they are conducting controlled burns.

“The chemicals are burning off,” J.B. Slaton, Louisiana State Police, said. “They’re not leaving a compound, they’re not going into the air, they’re burning off.”

According to the company's website, the facility annually produces approximately 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of polymer grade propylene. Ethylene is extremely flammable and is easily ignited by heat, sparks or flames. It can form explosive mixtures in the air.

As of 11:00 a.m., the Department of Environmental Quality reports that air quality tests show no detectable contamination in the air as of yet.

So far there is one reported fatality and 77 injuries. The victim has been identified as Zachary C. Green, 29, of Hammond. Three people remain in critical condition.

The Baton Rouge General is treating 1 critical patient, 2 in fair condition, 3 in good condition, and 5 are being treated for burns.

Our Lady of the Lake is treating 2 patients in critical condition and 10 in fair condition. Nine of those in fair condition have been released.

St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales has 36 patients who are in fair to good condition.

"Patients that were exposed to the chemical Ethylene-Propylene-Maleic Anhydride Copolymers, were provided the proper decontamination and appropriate care,"  said Tomas Jacome, MD, Medical Director of Our Lady of the Lake Trauma Services. "While we always hope that situations such as these do not occur, our trauma surgeons and team are fully equipped to handle events of this magnitude and prepared and ready to serve our patients and the Baton Rouge area community.”

EMS responders treated several burn victims at the scene of the explosion. A triage center was set up at Iberville High School.

We’re told several busses with workers from the plant were transported to the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales.

“We’re continuing to do a head count to account for every single person who was on site,” Doug Cain, Louisiana State Police, said. “Hazmat crews are now going on ground at the site to see what remains.”

Hazmat responders have closed several roads in the area. They include LA 30, 74, 73, 75, and 3115.

If you are looking for information about a loved one involved in this fire, please call (866) 380-2303.

Click here to view a photo gallery.

NBC33 News will continue to track this story, and we'll bring you new developments as we are able to uncover them. Follow our updates on Twitter via #plantfire. Make sure to download the NBC33 mobile app and follow us on Facebook for the latest.
 

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