One dead, 73 hurt in plant explosion in Geismar

GEISMAR (AP) — A ground-rattling explosion Thursday at a chemical plant in Louisiana ignited a blaze that killed one person

and injured dozens of others, authorities said. Witnesses described a chaotic scene of flames as high as 200 feet into the

air and workers scrambling over gates to escape the plant.

A thick plume of black smoke rose from the

plant after the blast even after the fire was extinguished. At a

roadblock several

miles away where family members waited anxiously to hear about

loved ones, flames were still easily visible above the trees

even hours later.

Louisiana's health department said 77 people

were treated at hospitals, with 51 being released by the evening.

Hospitals reported

that workers mostly had burns, cardiac and respiratory issues and

bruises, health department spokeswoman Christina Stephens

said in a news release.

A body was found by hazardous materials crews going through the aftermath of the blast at the facility, state police Capt.

Doug Cain said. Police identified the man killed as 29-year-old Zachary C. Green, of Hammond.

The company said the blast happened at 8:37

a.m. By the afternoon, all of the plant's more than 300 workers had been

accounted

for, Cain said. The plant, owned by The Williams Companies Inc.,

based in Tulsa, Okla., is in an industrial area of Geismar,

a Mississippi River community about 20 miles southeast of Baton

Rouge.

The Williams facility is one of scores of

chemical and industrial facilities that dot the riverside between Baton

Rouge and

New Orleans. A few homes and four other plants are within 2 miles,

said Lester Kenyon, spokesman for Ascension Parish government.

The cause was not immediately known but the FBI said terrorism was not suspected.

A contract worker, Daniel Cuthbertson, 34, described a scene of "mass hysteria" immediately after the explosion, with workers

scrambling over gates to get out of the plant.

"God was with me today because I know when I looked back, I barely made it. I know somebody was hurt. There's no way everybody

escaped that," Cuthbertson said while at an emergency staging area about 2 miles from the plant.

More than 300 people were evacuated from the

site, but some stayed behind, officials said. Ten workers stayed in an

explosive-proof

control center as the fire raged, said state police Capt. Doug

Cain. The workers performed vital tasks, including shutting

valves that rendered the plant safe, he said.

Residents several miles from the plant described feeling the ground shaking.

"It felt like a three-second earthquake. It

was a massive explosion," said state Sen. Troy Brown, who lives several

miles

from the plant. Unsure what it was, he drove to a gas station down

the street and saw flames shooting up 100 to 200 feet into

the air.

"It was scary," he said.

Officials at area hospitals said a handful

of patients were in critical or serious condition, though most seemed to

have minor

injuries. The plant makes ethylene and propylene — highly

flammable gases that are the basic building blocks in the petrochemical

industry.

Early tests did not indicate dangerous levels of any chemicals around the plant after the blast, but Cain said air monitoring

continued Thursday afternoon.

Cain said the fire was out, but gas was being flared — burned at the top of high chimneys — in other parts of the plant. "There

is still some controlled flaring going on, so people in the area are going to see smoke," he said.