'14 killed' in Texas refinery blast

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The Independent US

At least 14 people were killed and more than 100 were injured when a thunderous explosion tore through a BP oil refinery, shooting flames and billowing smoke into the sky and showering the area with ash and chunks of charred metal.

At least 14 people were killed and more than 100 were injured when a thunderous explosion tore through a BP oil refinery, shooting flames and billowing smoke into the sky and showering the area with ash and chunks of charred metal.

The cause of the explosion at the Texas City refinery was not immediately known.

Workers searched into the night through rubble for survivors or bodies, several hours after the 1.20pm blast yesterday. An undetermined number of workers were unaccounted for; most of the injured suffered broken bones, cuts, concussions and other injuries.

Refinery manager Don Parus said BP was waiting on an official death toll confirmation from the medical examiner's office, but added: "It's my deep regret that we believe we have 14 losses of life."

The blast left a gaping hole in the earth, mangled nearby offices, and was so powerful that witnesses said it rattled homes as far as five miles away. Cars and trucks in an employee car park were coated with soot and debris.

"It was real scary. Have you ever heard the thunder real loud? It was like 10 times that," said plant worker Charles Gregory, who was with several co-workers inside a trailer tank when the floor started rumbling.

The explosion occurred in a part of the plant used to boost the octane level of petrol. BP spokeswoman Annie Smith said terrorism "is not a primary focus of our investigation".

The plant, 35 miles south east of Houston, sprawls across 1,200 acres with 30 refinery units. About 433,000 barrels of crude oil are processed a day, producing 3% of the US supply. The plant employs about 1,800 people in Texas City, a city of about 40,000 people.

Fuel prices could rise slightly because of the explosion because the plant is such a large gas producer.

The explosion caused panic in the oil town, with many residents fearing the worst as they awaited word on their friends and family members who worked at the plant.

Within minutes of the explosion, officials ordered a "shelter-in-place", meaning residents had to stay inside until authorities could be certain the air was safe. Children were ordered under their desks until the rumbling subsided.

Valerie Perez was among those standing outside the refinery fence, worried about her 18-year-old husband who works there and had not contacted her. Perez, who has a three-month-old baby, said her husband always took his mobile phone to work. Yesterday, he left it behind.

"I'm nervous," she said, holding back tears.

Wenceslado de la Cerda, a 50-year-old retired firefighter, said the blast shook the ground, rattled windows and knocked ceiling panels to the floor.

"Basically, it was one big boom," he said. "It's a shame that people have to get killed and hurt trying to make a dollar in these plants, but that's part of reality."

The plant and town have dealt with refinery explosions in the past.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the refinery after two employees were burned to death by superheated water in September.

Another explosion forced the evacuation of the plant for several hours last March. Afterward, OSHA fined the refinery 63,000 dollars (£35,000) for safety breaches, including problems with its emergency shutdown system and employee training.

Texas City is the site of the worst industrial accident in US history. In 1947, a fire aboard a ship at the Texas City docks triggered a massive explosion that killed 576 people and left fires burning in the city for days.

"Welcome to life in Texas City," Marion Taylor, 55, said yesterday as she entered a grocery shop shortly after the explosion.

* Oil prices rose amid concerns that the fatal explosion would leave the energy industry more overstretched. A barrel of US light crude for May delivery rose 47 US cents to 54.28 US dollars in early trading in the Far East.

The refinery - the third-largest in the United States - produces 30 per cent of BP's supply of petroleum products in North America, and 3 per cent of the US supply. It processes about 430,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

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