GEISMAR, La. -- A mid-morning explosion and fire rocked the Williams Geismar olefine chemical plant in Geismar Thursday, injuring several while forcing the shutdown of Louisiana highways.
The explosion was reported to police around 8:30 a.m., and as of 10:50 a.m. officials believed the fire was contained and the situation was stable, WAFB reported. Louisiana State Police said there was still a threat of a secondary explosion.
Thirty people were taken out of the plant by ambulance and three were airlifted, according to the Department of Environmental Quality. (The Iberville Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness told WAFB that six burn victims were taken to various hospitals via helicopter, and Baton Rouge General reported receiving seven explosion victims via ground and air transport. These victims may be included in the DEQ's count.)
"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," the company said in a news release.
There were as many as 600 workers in the plant at the time of the explosion, according to WAFB.
The release said the emergency shut-down valves were closed and the unit is isolated.
Still, LSP responded to the explosion by sending a hazardous materials team to the fire.
The release from the stack is reported to be residual propelyne, which is generating the smoke, according to the DEQ.
Parts of Louisiana highways 74, 30 and 3115 are still closed, troopers said.
Residents in St. Gabriel are asked to shelter in place from LA 3115 to LA 74 as a precaution.
Family members or employer personnel seeking information about potential victims can call 1-866-380-2303 or (225) 387-7767.
Williams Geismar annually produces approximately 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of polymer grade propylene, according to the company’s website.
Products from the facility are responsible for the ethane transportation business consisting of approximately 200 miles of pipelines, as well as a refinery-grade propylene splitter. The ethylene is used in the production of plastics.