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5 Killed in Blast at Washington State Oil Refinery

November 26, 1998| From Associated Press

ANACORTES, Wash. — An explosion shook an oil refinery Wednesday afternoon, killing at least five people and sending a plume of black smoke into the sky, authorities said. One person was missing.

The blast occurred about 1:30 p.m. at the Equilon Puget Sound Refining Co., said Lee Reagin, a spokesman for the company. The cause was under investigation.

"At the time of the incident, the refinery was recovering from a total electrical power failure as a result of the recent windstorms," Reagin said.

Winds gusting to more than 60 mph hit northwest Washington in a series of storms that began Monday night and continued into Wednesday.

Reagin read a short statement at an evening news conference, then refused to answer questions about the victims or provide other details.

Shortly after the blast, company representative Robert Todd said the explosion and fire occurred in the "coker," which is part of the refining process. The fire was quickly extinguished.

"There was like a whoosh sound, and then like a black mushroomy-looking cloud that went up several hundred feet in the air," said Bruce Rechsteiner, a worker at a nearby auto dealership.

The Skagit County Department of Emergency Services said the smoke was not toxic.

Equilon was formed in January as a joint venture that combines major elements of Texaco's and Shell's Midwestern and Western U.S. refining and marketing businesses.

A state Department of Labor and Industries official, Roland Lund, said the refinery was the same one at which a worker was killed in an accident in 1996, when the refinery was operated by Texaco. The worker was killed during maintenance work on a heat-exchange system.

Anacortes is about 60 miles north of Seattle.

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