Refinery blast cause not known

TEXAS CITY (TEXAS), MARCH 24. All but one of about 1,800 workers at a BP oil refinery workers have been accounted for after overnight search efforts following the thunderous blast that killed 14 and injured more than 100 persons, officials said on Thursday.

``We think we found all the people,'' said an official.

The fiery blast on Wednesday at BP's 1,200-acre plant near Houston shot flames high into the sky, forced schoolchildren to cower under their desks and showered plant grounds with ash and chunks of charred metal. Windows rattled more than 8 km away.

The official on Thursday confirmed the death toll at 14 but said further details would come from the medical examiner's office.

BP refinery records indicate the one unaccounted-for worker checked out and left the refinery, but no one has heard from him, the official said.

About 433,000 barrels of crude oil are processed a day at the plant, producing 3 per cent of the U.S. supply. The rest of the refinery was running normally, said a spokesman for BP, formerly British Petroleum.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately known. It happened in a part of the plant used to boost the octane level of gasoline. A thorough investigation is under way, said BP America president, Ross Pillari, on Thursday.

``It's clear that we have a lot of work to do in the coming days to make sure we understand exactly what happened, and we're going to do that,'' Mr. Pillari said. ``We are going to put all of our resources into it.'' Federal investigators also planned to review the accident.

Wenceslado de la Cerda, a 50-year-old retired firefighter, said the blast shook the ground, rattled windows and knocked ceiling panels to the floor.

``Basically, it was one big boom,'' he said. ``It's a shame that people have to get killed and hurt trying to make a dollar in these plants, but that's part of reality.'' — AP

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