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1 Killed, 4 Injured in Refinery Accident

Adjustable steel roof collapses on workers repairing a storage tank in Wilmington.

April 11, 2006|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

One man died and four others were injured Monday when the roof of a storage tank collapsed at the ConocoPhillips refinery in Wilmington.

The contract workers were replacing the steel bottom of the empty, 90,000-barrel tank when its adjustable steel roof fell.

"Somehow or another, there was a collapse" and the 120-foot-diameter roof fell to just two feet above the tank floor, said Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Lou Rapouli.

More than 60 firefighters responded to the 9:30 a.m. accident. A team crawled under the roof to rescue the men, who were taken by helicopter to county Harbor-UCLA Medical Center near Torrance, Rapouli said.

Mario Vasquez, 25, of San Pedro died at the hospital, and the four other workers suffered "minor to substantial injuries" but were expected to survive, Rapouli said.

An investigator from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health was at the scene Monday afternoon, but the complete investigation could take up to six months, said Cal-OSHA spokeswoman Renee Bacchini.

The accident occurred in a tank normally used to store naphtha at the refinery, 1660 W. Anaheim St. The tank had been emptied so that the crew from HMT Tank Service could work on it, Rapouli said.

The tank has a floating roof designed to move up and down with the level of naphtha inside to prevent the substance from vaporizing. The roof can be lowered to six feet above the floor of the tank, where it is held in place by 27 steel support legs, Rapouli said. The roof was resting at that position when it suddenly dropped four more feet.

At the time, workers were cutting about an inch from the support legs, working on them one by one, so that they could slip new steel plates underneath.

ConocoPhillips on Monday suspended all tank maintenance work at its Wilmington and Carson refineries and will conduct its own investigation, said spokesman Andy Perez.

The Wilmington refinery kept operating, and overall operations were not affected, Perez said, adding, "Our thoughts are with the families."

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