This photo shows an explosion at The Williams Companies Inc. plant in the Ascension Parish town of Geismar La.,June 13, 2013.

Louisiana Chemical Plant Explodes Along Mississippi River

One worker dies, 73 others hospitalized after hydrocarbon-refining plant explosion.

This photo shows an explosion at The Williams Companies Inc. plant in the Ascension Parish town of Geismar La.,June 13, 2013.

This photo shows an explosion at the Williams Companies Inc. plant in Geismar La., June 13, 2013.

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A chemical plant along the banks of the Mississippi River exploded south of Baton Rouge, La., Thursday morning, reportedly injuring dozens of people. 

There is no immediate word on what caused the explosion and subsequent fire. The Geismar, La., facility is operated by the Williams Companies, a publicly traded energy firm based in Tulsa, Okla.

WAFB-TV reports that 33 people were taken to local hospitals after the blast, citing officials at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Around 600 employees reported to work this morning, according to the TV station. Jean Kelly, a spokesperson for the state agency, told The Times-Picayune that 30 people were hospitalized.

Local residents are being encouraged to stay indoors and roads around the plant have been closed while first-responders attempt to extinguish the blaze and rescue possible victims.

There are no immediate reports of deaths at the facility, which refines oil and gas for the chemical industry.

A statement posted on the Williams Companies's website shortly after the blast said the explosion happened at 8:37 a.m. CST.

"At the onset of the incident, Louisiana State Police, Ascension OEP and Iberville OEP were notified," the company statement said. "Both Ascension and Iberville OEPs activated their emergency alert systems. We are currently focused on the safety and well-being of our employees, contractors and the local community who are responding to the situation. Emergency shut-down valves have been closed. The unit is isolated."

The Williams Companies statement did not speculate about the cause of the explosion and said that the number of injuries among employees was not immediately clear.

The plant that exploded "annually produces approximately 1.3 billion pounds of ethylene and 90 million pounds of polymer grade propylene," according to a description on the company's website. The company says it operates 200 miles of ethane pipelines in Louisiana and "a refinery-grade propylene splitter." The company operates around 15,000 miles of natural gas pipelines in the U.S., it says.

 

The Williams Companies also operates facilities in Canada that extract natural gas from tar sands.

The Louisiana disaster comes two months after a fertilizer plant explosion killed 15 people in the small town of West, Texas. The cause of that April 17 fire and subsequent explosion remains under investigation, and authorities have opened a criminal inquiry into its cause.


Update, 5 p.m. EDT:

In an afternoon press conference Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said that 73 people were taken to local hospitals and that one person died.

"As of now we believe that every worker has been accounted for," Jindal said. "There are ten workers still in a safe room in the plant. this is part of the emergency protocol to help with the shut-down of the plant."

Watch Jindal’s press conference, via WAFB-TV:

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Updated 06/13/13: This article was updated to include Gov. Jindal's comments.