A large explosion rocked a natural gas processing plant on the Washington-Oregon border Monday, injuring five workers, causing about 400 people to evacuate from nearby farms and homes, and emitting a mushroom cloud of black smoke that was visible for more than a mile.
The 8:20 a.m. blast at the WilliamsNorthwest Pipeline facility near the Washington town of Plymouth, along the Columbia River, sparked a fire and punctured one of the facility’s two giant storage tanks for liquefied natural gas.
Benton County Sheriff Steven Keane said a relatively small amount of gas leaked from the tank to the ground in a moat-like containment area. But it then evaporated, blowing away to the northeast, he said.
“I think if one of those huge tanks had exploded, it might have been a different story,” Keane said.
The fire at the facility about 4 miles west of Plymouth was extinguished within a couple of hours.
One of the injured workers was transported to a Portland, Ore., hospital specializing in burns, he said.
Benton Fire District 1 Capt. Jeff Ripley said another four people were taken to local medical facilities. None of the injuries was believed to be life-threatening.
More than a mile away across the Columbia River, the explosion shook Cindi Stefani’s home.
“It was just a very loud boom,” she said. “I looked across the river and saw a giant mushroom cloud and flames at least a couple hundred feet high.”
Animals on neighboring farms were running around, she added.
“At that point we were pretty scared. I was thinking, ‘We need to get out of here.’”
Deputies went door to door to homes and farms within a 2-mile radius, evacuating about 400 residents as a precaution.
By Monday night, the evacuation zone had been reduced to a 1-mile radius, the Benton County Emergency Management agency said. Road and river restrictions were lifted.
About 75 people checked into a shelter set up in Oregon at the Umatilla County Fairgrounds, but emergency officials said few were expected to stay the night.
The evacuation was described as voluntary.