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At least 1 killed, up to 73 injured in Louisiana chemical plant explosion


08:24, June 14, 2013

HOUSTON, June 13 (Xinhua) -- At least one person was killed and as many as 73 other were injured in an explosion that rocked a chemical plant in the U.S. state of Louisiana Thursday morning, local officials said.

At a press conference held in the early afternoon, State Governor Bobby Jindal told media at least one person was killed, 73 were hospitalized and more than 300 workers were evacuated in what he described as "a tragic incident".

Jindal said there were still 10 people in the plant but they remained in a safe room. He promised to launch an investigation into the plant and see what caused the explosion.

Up till now there are no confirmed fatalities and no official count on the injured. The state Police said earlier one person was found dead while a state senator said law enforcement at the scene confirmed two fatalities.

State Department of Environmental Quality initially said 30 people were transported from the plant by ambulance while three or four were evacuated by medical helicopter, but a local ambulance's Facebook page said 13 were airlifted by helicopter, 23 by ambulance and 24 by bus, to local hospitals.

Local hospitals have confirmed that 27 victims injured during the blast are currently being treated, but they did not elaborate on how serious their injuries are and how many of them are in critical conditions.

The blast happened around 8:30 a.m. local time at Williams Olefins plant in Geismar, about 20 miles southeast of the state's capital city Baton Rouge, and later caused a fire.

Police spokesman Doug Cain said the fire now has been contained but not completely extinguished. Earlier TV footage showed black thick smoke billowing over the plant and a big fireball formed after the explosion occurred.

Roads near the site have been blocked and residents were told to stay indoors with doors and windows closed, though early tests did not indicate dangerous levels of any chemicals around the plant. It is still unknown what caused the explosion.

The plant owned by the Williams Companies Inc. manufactures ethylene and polymer grade propylene. Ethylene is a colorless and flammable gas that is widely used in the chemicals industry. According to the company's website, the plant produces approximately 1.3 billion pounds (560 million kilograms) of ethylene and 90 million (41 million kilograms) pounds of polymer grade propylene each year.

Governor Jindal said the plant had been approved for an expansion project and was in "turnaround," where a unit is taken offline for expansion or renovation work. The Williams plant was reported to have had some problems in the past in complying with safety regulations.

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