By Ben DuBose
An explosion and subsequent fire ripped through the Williams olefins plant on Thursday in Geismar, Louisiana, leaving behind two deaths, about 73 injuries and forcing others in the area to shelter-in-place or evacuate.
The explosion happened at 8:37 a.m. local time and forced local police to shut down roads leading to the plant, Williams spokesman Tom Droege said. Emergency shutdown valves were closed, and resultant fire had been isolated and diminished by 10:30 a.m. local time, the company said.
Ambulances and helicopters transported those injured facility to local hospitals and about 300 workers were evacuated from the scene after the explosion, said Jean Kelly, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Early tests didn't indicate dangerous levels of any chemicals around the plant, Ms. Kelly said. The cause of the explosion remains unknown.
"We are currently focused on the safety and well-being of our employees, contractors and the local community who are responding to the situation," said Mr. Droege.
Eight people were taken to Baton Rouge General Medical Center and more than a dozen others were taken to St. Elizabeth Hospital in nearby Gonzales, officials said. The number of people with "significant injuries" appeared to be less than 10, state police Sgt. J.B. Slaton said.
People within two miles of the Williams plant were initially ordered to stay indoors, but were allowed to leave their homes before noon, according to a spokesman for the Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness official.
The Geismar plant produces 1.3 billion lb/year of ethylene and 90 million lb/year of polymer-grade propylene, though Williams was in the process of expanding the plant's ethylene capacity. A company spokesperson wasn't immediately available to answer questions about the expansion.
Geismar is located about 25 miles southeast of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Photo courtesy of a local resident via Twitter. Additional reporting information from Dow Jones Newswires.