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South TX plant slowly restarting after explosion

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Officials with a South Texas plastics plant that exploded last week have begun to bring units not affected by the blast back online but they said Tuesday that the process will be slow.

"A plant as complex and large as the one in Point Comfort, you don't just flip a switch to start it up again," said Rob Thibault, a spokesman for Formosa Plastics Corp., which owns the facility. "A phased start up has to take place."

Thibault did not know when the unaffected units in the plant would all be up and running again.

Nearly all the fires at the Olefins 2 unit, where the explosion took place Thursday, were finally extinguished as of Tuesday. A small fire resulting from a broken pipe that was venting gas still needed to be put out. Thibault did not know when that fire would be extinguished.

Officials at the plant had been having trouble shutting off the source of fuel that was feeding the various fires, said officials with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

CSB investigators had indicated earlier it might have been possible it could take a few weeks for all the fires at the unit to be extinguished but on Tuesday clarified that, saying it would probably not take that long.

The small fire that continues to burn does not present a direct threat to any major equipment at the plant, said Jim Lay, the CSB's lead investigator on the explosion.

"We're still assessing (the accident) at this point," he said. "We're starting to get a feel of what some of the root causes might be. But our focus is on preventing future accidents."

Lay said it was still too early for him to say what might have caused the accident because investigators still have not been able to inspect the unit because of the ongoing small fire.

But Thibault said Formosa officials believe the explosion occurred after a contractor driving a forklift hit a propylene line.

"Our investigation will find out the exact process that led to that," he said.

Lay said CSB officials will probably head back to Washington, D.C., by the end of the week but might return. It could be a few weeks before investigators decide whether a formal investigation will be opened by the CSB, he said.

Thibault said Formosa officials were still trying to finalize the number of people who were injured by the blast. He said two people were hospitalized and about a dozen others received minor injuries.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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