NORCO, La. — An explosion and fire that ripped off roofs and doors rocked a Shell Oil Co. refinery Thursday, killing one worker, injuring 42 people and leaving six people missing, authorities said.
"It went boom, and then boom again," said Adam Mashia, 65, who lives less than a mile from the plant. "It knocked me to the floor, and as I was getting up it knocked me down again."
About 2,500 residents of nearby homes were evacuated while the fire raged out of control for 5 1/2 hours, but most were allowed to return home later in the day. The fire was under control but still burning, and Shell officials said they planned to let it burn itself out.
Rescue workers were waiting for the fire to go out and the rubble to cool before entering the refinery, said Fred Foster, manager of the Norco-Shell complex. He said there was no speculation on the cause of the explosion.
The dead man was identified as a Shell employee. Foster said the six missing men also were employees.
Town's Windows Shattered
The force of the blast left widespread damage throughout town, and black smoke hung in the sky. Virtually all windows in the town were shattered, doors were blown out of their frames and roofs lifted out of place.
"I've never seen so much damage in Norco, even when hurricanes have hit," said Ikey Lucas, director of St. Charles Emergency Operations.
The shock wave from the early morning blast shattered plate-glass windows as far away as New Orleans, 20 miles down the Mississippi River. People 45 miles away said they felt the blast.
Damage at the refinery complex alone was expected to run into the millions of dollars, Shell spokesman Phil Schwin said. The accident ruptured the catalytic cracker, which converts crude oil to gasoline, and seriously damaged control rooms and other facilities.