Image: 1947 Texas City oil fire.
AP file
Refineries and oil storage tanks of the Monsanto chemical plant burn on the waterfront in Texas City, Texas, on April 16, 1947. The disaster, which occurred when two ships loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded, caused 561 deaths.
updated 3/24/2005 4:14:06 PM ET 2005-03-24T21:14:06

At a convenience store within sight of the BP plant, Fabian Orellano was cleaning up fluorescent lights that had crashed to the ground in the latest explosion to hit this community.

“You know that living close to these plants is really dangerous, but you just don’t think about it,” he said after a blast Wednesday killed at least 14 workers and injured more than 100 others.

At Mainland Medical Center, the closest hospital to the plant, about 70 people huddled around the lobby, where about 60 of the injured were being treated.

Some were crying, many were embracing, the rest gathered around talking. Pastors were keeping the media from the worried families of the injured.

Longtime residents have been through it before — the explosions that shatter windows, damage eardrums and send them dashing for cover.

It’s a cruel irony in Texas City that the petrochemical industry, which employs a large share of the population and provides them with a rich tax base, also is involved in the very events that sometimes scare, injure or kill them.

“I’ve become accustomed to it,” said Marion Taylor, 55, as she entered the convenience store shortly after the blast. “I was born here and pretty much, it happens from time to time.”

Site of country's worst industrial accident
In March 2004, an explosion at the BP plant injured no one. But 58 years ago, Texas City was the site of the nation’s worst industrial accident when two ships loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded; combined losses were 576 people killed and another 5,000 injured.

Within minutes of Wednesday’s explosion, Texas City and regional emergency workers responded according to form. Officials ordered residents to stay inside until authorities could be certain the air was safe.

School children were ordered under their desks until the rumbling subsided and parents were told their children were safe — not to pick them up.

Not everyone obeyed the order. One broken window came not from the plant explosion, but from a panicked parent who smashed a school window trying to get to his child inside.

The Salvation Army was on hand, doling out food and drinks to an estimated 900 emergency workers.

“They are burned out, really, basically tired,” said Salvation Army worker Henry Garza Jr. “You can tell a couple of them were involved close enough to the explosion. I don’t know, they look pale and they just like are lucky they survived.”

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