Fire still smoldering after plant explosion

The smoke from the fire made visibility down US 190 almost impossible.
The smoke from the fire made visibility down US 190 almost impossible.
Smoke billows from Air Liquide plant explosion between Port Allen and Erwinville
Smoke billows from Air Liquide plant explosion between Port Allen and Erwinville

PORT ALLEN, LA (WAFB) - One person was injured, families were evacuated and US 190 is shut down at Bueche Road between Port Allen and Erwinville due to a chemical fire.

The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) has activated its Crisis Action Team (CAT) because of the fire at the Air Liquide facility.

The fire is at the Air Liquide Specialty Gases plant. It happened around 10:30 a.m. Emergency officials, along with DEQ and a hazardous material team are on the scene to control the fire.

Late Monday afternoon, firemen, company officials and State Police technicians were able to enter the hot zone in order to inspect several cylinders, which were not damaged by the fire.  Several hundred tanks were still on fire.  State Police Air Support assisted technicians in inspecting the fire from the air before crews could enter the site.

One person was taken to the hospital with injuries to their eyes. That person's identity has not yet been released. The West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office says two tanks of acetylene exploded, however, the public relations office for Air Liquide in Houston says the tanks were empty and waiting to be filled with acetylene.

West Baton Rouge Parish has declared a state of emergency. A spokesperson from the Sheriff's office said numerous tanks have exploded but their main concern is the two larger tanks that have not exploded. Officials believe the explosion was caused by a faulty valve on a tank.

The fire continues to smolder, but once it is extinguished, Louisiana State Police HazMat will assess the remaining cylinders to ensure stability. GOHSEP says that US 190 will remain closed for an undetermined amount of time. Earlier reports stated the highway could be reopened any time between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

There are around 200 emergency officials on the scene handling evacuations, traffic and general safety.

The evacuation of homes and businesses has been expanded to cover a one mile radius, but roads within a three mile radius of the plant have been closed.

The Erwinville Community Center and Port Allen Community Center are being used as shelters to house the people evacuated. Two hundred people were taken to the West Baton Rouge Community Center and another hundred or so were taken to the Erwinville Community Center.

GOHSEP says around 40 homes were evacuated. The evacuation order is still in place.

Evacuees ended up at either community center. Many were frustrated that they were forced from their homes. They know, however, the dangers of living near plants such as this one.

April Beasley is in Erwinville Community Center with her two young children. "We don't have any choice…we don't have any choice. I'm glad they were able to give us somewhere to go. Safety first you know, accidents do happen," she said.

"We're safe, so good, always better safe than sorry, but we we're told to evacuate. My major concern is for my mother's well being, so we got her eventually so that way we would know that she's in a safe place; so that was our major concern," said Clerance Gordon.

Eastbound traffic of U.S. 190 is being diverted at LA 413 to Rosedale Road. Westbound traffic is being diverted onto LA 1145 to Rosedale Road.

Portable message signs have been placed by DOTD to LA 415 Northbound before Rosedale Road, US 190 Westbound before LA 415, I-10 West before LA 415, and US 190 Eastbound before LA 77. Troopers have set up a command post on US 190 between LA 1145 and the Cajun Circus Truck Stop and Casino.

Officials believe the evacuation area and road closures will continue through Monday night and into Tuesday morning.

Agents with the Department of Environmental Quality are on the scene. They reported they responded to the fire around 10:45 a.m.

DEQ says the main chemical involved is acetylene which is mainly used during the welding process. DEQ reports that air monitoring has not picked up off-site impacts.

The Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has also posted portable message boards with information on road closures along the interstate and roadways affected. Motorists can get the latest updates on real-time road conditions by dialing 511 from their telephone and saying the route or region about which they are seeking information or visiting the 511 Traveler Information Web site at www.511la.org.

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