Oil refinery blast death toll

March 24, 2005 - 12:46PM

Oil refinery blast image
Firefighters pour water on a smoldering unit following an explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas. Photo: AP

Oil refinery blast

A BP Oil official said 14 people died and 100 were injured in a massive explosion at the company's Texas City petrochemical refinery today.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known but it sparked a fire that was put out a few hours later, and workers were searching the rubble for survivors or bodies.

"It was unbelievable, the flames shot more than 70 feet (21m) into the air," said Judith Mantrell, who was standing in the front yard of her home on Tiki Island about 8km across Galveston Bay from the plant.

Mantrell, 62, told the Houston Chronicle there was a sharp and short boom that shook her home, rattled her windows and pushed her truck across the ground.

At least three of the injured were in critical condition and one was in serious condition, officials said.

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 in Texas City, about 56km south-east of Houston, sprawls across 486ha with 30 refinery units.

About 433,000 barrels of crude oil are processed a day, producing three per cent of the US supply.

The plant employs about 1,800 people.

John Lee with the Galveston office of emergency management said a warning for people near the plant to stay inside, the warning was lifted about an hour later.

Non-essential personnel had been evacuated from the refinery but other parts of the plant continued to operate.

The report of the explosion at the plant, which the company's Web site says produces 3 per cent of all petrol consumed in the United States, pushed petrol futures prices higher in after-hours trading.

Crude oil prices had fallen more than $2 over the course of the day, the slide prompted by ample crude supplies in the United States.

Texas City is about 55 kilometres southeast of Houston.

Last March there was a blast and fire at a BP refinery in Texas City. That explosion forced the evacuation of the plant for several hours.

AP, AFP