9News I-Team Geismar plant explosion workers: Surviving the blas - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

9News I-Team Geismar plant explosion workers: Surviving the blast

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GEISMAR, LA (WAFB) -

Some workers who survived this summer's huge explosion at the Williams Olefins plant say they had to rip a gate apart to escape the inferno. They're speaking exclusively to the 9News I-Team just one day after the feds proposed fines against the plant; saying alleged violations there might have led to deaths and injuries.

The workers said when the fire broke out, they were deserted.

The blast rocked the Ascension Parish Chemical corridor on June 13, 2013. The images of thick, black smoke that billowed from the Williams Olefins plant near the Mississippi River could be seen from miles away. But the photographs taken by plant workers on the ground told the stories of hundreds of men who ran for their lives.

The men who met with the 9News I-Team are contract workers. They said they were working on an expansion project at Williams Olefins that morning.

"I was welding with the hood down and all of the sudden out of nowhere there was a big explosion," said Lucio Hernandez, a welder.

"I watched fire come rolling. I had never seen something so fast and so hot," said electrician Mike Wascom.

Chris Devall said "It was seconds. In my mind, it felt like minutes."

Devall, Hernandez, Wascom and Caesar Diaz all say they were between 20 to 100 feet from the unit that caught fire. They recall the fears they faced in those critical moments.

"I thought of my men. I thought of my wife. I thought of my kids. I felt like it was over," said Devall.

"I was in the air in the middle of two big heaters and I said dang I didn't even know if I was going to make it down," said Hernandez.

"I landed chest first; snapped my wrist in half and started crawling," said Wascom.

Diaz says he watched as flames reached his supervisor. "When we saw him on fire, we took off."

But escaping the inferno was much more difficult than they had imagined. The men say they were familiar with the plant's emergency evacuation plan, but they say security personnel left the site with many workers still inside. Devall describes it as total pandemonium.

"The gate was locked and people started climbing the gate, ripping through the gate. A bus actually rammed the gate and we were evacuated to a field," Devall said.

Nearly 80 workers were rushed to area hospitals to be treated for burns, broken bones and injuries as a result of the explosion.

"I was on a helicopter with a man and he looked like he was about to die," said Mike Wascom.

Wascom had to have two screws put in his wrist and says at times, both of his arms go numb. Devall is still waiting to have back surgery. None of them have returned to work. Their live, they say, have been changed forever.

"It's been a complete 180. Not providing for my family is the worst," said Devall

"I love to fish, can't fish anymore. I love to hunt, can't go climb a tree and go sit in a tree stand. I can't throw the football with my kids. It's hard," said Wascom.

Hernandez says another tragedy hit his family even harder. "The main person who was helping was my dad and he passed away on October 8."

While the men say they expect to make full recoveries, the emotional scars are still very present.

"Sometimes I dream about it and it's like I go all the way through it again," said Diaz.

Thursday afternoon, Williams Olefins sent a response which says, in part:

"…in the six months since the incident, we have not received any reports like those you reference. Very shortly after the incident began, Williams communicated an evacuation order to all contractor supervisors who then supervised the rapid evacuation of their employees in accordance with Williams' site emergency response plan… many in the emergency response community have praised our team's response to the incident and we agree.

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