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Five people injured from refinery explosion

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

BIG SPRING, Texas -- A thunderous explosion rocked an oil refinery Monday, injuring five people and shaking buildings miles away.

One employee was hospitalized for burns, while three contractors were treated and released, said Blake Lewis, a spokesman for refinery owner Alon USA.

A fifth person was injured when her car was struck by debris on Interstate 20, Big Spring Mayor Russ McEwen told the Odessa American. She was treated and released from a hospital.

Fires that lingered after the blast were extinguished late Monday afternoon, Lewis said.

The next step will entail getting into the site to determine what happened and how to make repairs.

Lewis said all workers were accounted for about an hour after the explosion.

A skeleton crew of just 40 people was there Monday because of the Presidents Day holiday, Alon USA Vice President David Foster told the newspaper. There are typically about four times as many people on duty at the time of the explosion, he said.

Foster said he expected the refinery to be offline for weeks.

The blast sent black smoke billowing into the sky and forced the closure of schools and an interstate.

"It was extremely scary. You shook you were so scared," said Laura McEwen, the mayor's wife, who lives about two miles from the refinery. "Our walls shook. It jolted your bed. It was like an earthquake."

John Moseley, managing editor of the Big Spring Herald whose downtown office is also about two miles from the refinery, said, "I thought it would knock the walls down."

Two elementary schools were evacuated, then classes were canceled at all nine campuses in the Big Spring school district, assistant superintendent Carie Dunnam said.

Classes also were canceled at Howard College, according to the two-year junior college's Web site.

The explosion forced open the doors of the school district's administration building about four miles from the plant, Dunnam said.

I-20 was shut down near the plant until about 6:30 p.m., the Department of Public Safety said.

The 78-year-old refinery employs about 170 people and has the capacity to put out about 70,000 barrels a day.

Big Spring is about halfway between El Paso and Dallas, where Alon is based.

The blast followed one the night before at an iron pipe factory in Utah that injured 11 workers, one critically.

The explosion occurred on the casting floor Sunday night after a frozen pipe leaked water onto calcium carbide, said John Balian, general manager at Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Co.

The explosion in Springville was loud enough to be heard at the Utah County jail, more than 4 miles from the plant, sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said.


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