Environment
1:18 pm
Thu June 13, 2013

Deadly Chemical Plant Explosion in Geismar

UPDATED 9:22 p.m. CST:

The injured count is up to 77  and a 29-year-old man is dead after a chemical explosion in Geismar, La. Thursday. 

300 people were evacuated from the Williams Olefins plant, which produces over a billion pounds of propylene and ethylene a year for use in the production of other chemical and plastic products. It was propylene that caught fire after the explosion. Ten workers stayed behind to monitor a burn-off.

A few hours after the fire started, Gov. Bobby Jindal stood in the middle of a rural road lined with sugar cane fields and horse pasture as black smoke billowed out of the damaged  plant behind him.

"Everyone is concerned with securing lives, not just at the site, but in the surrounding areas as well," Jindal said.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said the air is safe to breathe, despite the sour smell.

The cause of the blast is unknown, but the governor promised an investigation.

The fire started Thursday morning at The Williams Companies factory in Geismar, about 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, according to Louisiana State Police Capt. Doug Cain. The company reported that the explosion occurred at 8:37 a.m. CST and that the flow of chemicals to the fire had been cut off by 10 a.m.

The plant on fire after it reportedly exploded Thursday in the town of Geismar, La.
The plant on fire after it reportedly exploded Thursday in the town of Geismar, La.
Credit Ryan Meador / AP

Daniel Cuthbertson, a fuel truck operator, said he witnessed workers scrambling over gates and running from the plant when they heard the explosion, which shook the ground and was followed by a "ball of fire," according to the Associated Press.

In a statement on its website, the company said it is "focused on the safety and well-being" of its employees:

"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.

"First responders are on the scene and local routes to the plant have been closed by the local authorities.

"We are in the process of accounting for all personnel. Injuries have been reported, the number and extent of those injuries is not known at this point."