TEXAS CITY, Texas — The lone worker unaccounted for after an explosion at a BP oil refinery has died, raising the death toll to 15 in a blast that also injured more than 100 people, officials said Thursday.
BP spokesman Bill Stephens said the man was dead but released no details on whether the body was found in the rubble or elsewhere. Earlier in the day, officials said there were indications the man had checked out and left the refinery after Wednesday’s explosion.
About 1,800 people work the plant, but it was unclear how many were there at the time of the blast.
The fiery explosion shot flames high into the sky, forced schoolchildren to cower under their desks and showered plant grounds with ash and chunks of charred metal. Windows rattled more than five miles from the 1,200-acre plant near Houston.
The explosion happened in a part of the plant used to boost the octane level of gasoline. A thorough investigation is under way, BP America President Ross Pillari said Thursday.
Federal investigatiors to review
“It’s clear that we have a lot of work to do in the coming days to make sure we understand exactly what happened, and we’re going to do that,” Pillari said. “We are going to put all of our resources into it.” Federal investigators also planned to review the accident.
Most of those who died were contractors for J.E. Merit Constructors Inc., a field services provider and subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. in Pasadena, Calif., refinery manager Don Parus said.
About 433,000 barrels of crude oil is processed a day at the plant, producing 3 percent of the U.S. supply. Other than the unit affected by the blast, the rest of the refinery was running normally, said Hugh Depland, spokesman for BP, formerly British Petroleum.
He declined to answer questions about the capacity the refinery was running at Thursday or how production would be affected.
Gasoline prices could rise slightly because the plant is such a large gas producer. In afternoon trading Thursday in New York, the price of unleaded gasoline for April delivery was up slightly .
‘One big boom’
Wenceslado de la Cerda, a 50-year-old retired firefighter, said the blast shook the ground, rattled windows and knocked ceiling panels to the floor.
“Basically, it was one big boom,” he said. “It’s a shame that people have to get killed and hurt trying to make a dollar in these plants, but that’s part of reality.”
The plant and town, population 40,000, have dealt with two other refinery accidents within the last year.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the refinery nearly $110,000 after two employees were burned to death by superheated water in September.
Another explosion forced the evacuation of the plant for several hours last March. Afterward, OSHA fined the refinery $63,000 for 14 safety violations, including problems with its emergency shutdown system and employee training.
Texas City is the site of the worst industrial accident in U.S. history. In 1947, a fire aboard a ship at the Texas City docks triggered a huge explosion that killed 576 people and left fires burning in the city for days.
“Welcome to life in Texas City,” Marion Taylor, 55, said Wednesday. “I was born here, and pretty much, it happens from time to time.”
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