Chalmette, LA Oil Refinery Tower Explosion, July 1976
11 KILLED AS EXPLOSION RIPS OIL REFINERY TOWER.
Chalmette, La. (AP) -- An explosion ripped through a 30-story tower at the Tenneco Oil Co. refinery, mashing the men and metal inside it. Eleven workers were killed and at least 10 injured.
Authorities said they believed two more men were dead in the wrecked tower after the Thursday night explosion, but their bodies had not been recovered.
A crew worked through the night moving metal plates by hand, searching for the bodies.
A spokesman for Tenneco said the cause of the blast was not known. One workman said welding was being done and there might have been a gas leak.
It was the second explosion in the tower within a week, the St. Bernard Parish sheriff's office said. However, a Tenneco spokesman said today there had been no explosion last week and the men were doing routine maintenance work. At least two dozen men were working in and around the tower Thursday night, the sherriff's office said.
"There's no way of telling what happened to the guys inside," said LARRY CUPIT, who was working
in the area of the explosion. "It looked like it blew at the top and everything just came down inside it."
The shock of the explosion was felt as far as two miles away. There was no fire.
"Some of the victims were just blown apart," said Dr. Hewitt Thian, chief of surgery at Chalmette General Hospital. "It was impossible to identify some of them."
The victims were employed by Tenneco and Delta Field Erection Co., a subcontractor at the plant.
Robesonian Lumberton North Carolina 1976-08-13
PROBE BEGUN IN BLAST; 12 DEAD.
Chalmette, La. (UPI) -- Outwardly, nothing appeared wrong with the silvery 20-story tower at a hige Tenneco Oil Co. refinery. But emergency lights flashing in the night and rescue workers hustling bodies into ambulances told a grimmer story.
An explosion among metal discs deep inside the tower Thursday night killed 12 of the 24 workers performing routine maintenance inside. Another 10 persons were injured, four of them critically.
The blast, seen and heard as a puff of smoke and a dull thud outside the tower, ripped bodies beyond recognition and caused extensive skin and lung burns for several survivors.
"They were in deplorable condition," said Charles Genard, a resident of the New Orleans suburb who helped load bodies into rescue units. "If would turn the average man's stomach."
Company and federal inspectors began investigations Friday into the cause.
"There was a good breze getting in there, so there wouldn't have been a buildup of fumes," said Tenneco spokesman Lew Bullion. "That's what is stumping them on what caused this."
"This is what we won't know until the debrief the men who were in there: Was there a spark and if so, what caused it?"
Ralph Carrera, a St. Bernard sheriff's deputy called to the scene, was among the first to pull out the bodies.
"It was like hell in there," he said. "It was hot. The sides of the tower were charred and a lot of the guys were cut in half by the falling metal."
Hours after the explosion, the dead were lowered on a wooden platform rigged to a pulley outside the tripple-towered site. Lightbulbs were lowered into the tower to aid the search, and a blue 50-gallon oil drum served as a counterweight for the pulley.
Most of those killed were employed by Delta Field Erection Co., a contractor hired by Tenneco. The men were replacing nine-foot metal discs spaced 18 inches apart inside the tower when the blast occurred.
"We've never had anything like this since I came here in 1959," said a plant supervisor. "Every now and then a contractor will hit a live wire and electrocute someone, but we've never had anything
of this magnitude."
Galveston Daily News Texas 1976-08-14