- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

TEXAS CITY, Texas (AP) — A thunderous explosion tore through a BP oil refinery yesterday, shooting flames and billowing smoke into the sky and showering the area with ash and chunks of charred metal.

At least 14 persons were thought dead and more than 100 were injured. The cause of the explosion was not immediately known.

Workers searched through rubble for survivors or bodies into last night, several hours after the 1:20 p.m. blast. 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 parking lot 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 gasoline. BP spokeswoman Annie Smith said terrorism “is not a primary focus of our investigation.”

The plant in Texas City, about 35 miles southeast of Houston, sprawls across 1,200 acres. About 433,000 barrels of crude oil are processed a day, producing 3 percent of the U.S. supply.

Gasoline prices could rise slightly as a result of the explosion. Gasoline futures rose nearly 2 cents in late trading on news of the blast.

The explosion caused panic in this oil town of about 40,000 people, with many residents fearing the worst as they awaited word on friends and family members among the 1,800 who work 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 at the plant and hadn’t contacted her. Mrs. Perez, who has a 3-month-old baby, said her husband always takes his cellular phone to work. He left it behind yesterday.

“I’m nervous,” she said, holding back tears.

The plant and town have dealt with refinery explosions in the past, including the worst industrial accident in U.S. history. In 1947, a fire aboard a ship at the Texas City port triggered a massive explosion that killed 576 persons and left fires burning in the city for days.

“Welcome to life in Texas City,” Marion Taylor, 55, said yesterday as she entered a convenience store shortly after the explosion.

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