Explosion at Harvey dock shakes homes

Photo provided by WWL-TV - Smoke pours from a facility at the Kinder Morgan Terminal on River Road  in Harvey after reports of an explosion and fire.
Photo provided by WWL-TV - Smoke pours from a facility at the Kinder Morgan Terminal on River Road in Harvey after reports of an explosion and fire.

An explosion and fire on Tuesday at a Harvey industrial facility along the Mississippi River rocked houses on both sides of the Harvey Canal and sent thick smoke — first black, then white — into the skies for hours, causing concerns among nearby residents.

Firefighters put out the blaze quickly, but the driver of a truck being loaded with ethanol was sent to West Jefferson Medical Center with burns on his leg, said Col. John Fortunato, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

The hospital later confirmed that he had been treated and released.

The cause of the accident, which occurred about 11:30 a.m. at the Kinder Morgan facility, 3450 River Road, is still under investigation.

Joe Hollier, spokesman for the multinational pipeline and terminal operator, said the 100-acre facility primarily handles ethanol and vegetable oil, which come in and out by ship, barge and rail and are stored in its 186 tanks.

Hollier said the two people involved in the accident were wearing flame-retardant suits as the grain-based fuel was loaded into a tanker truck for delivery when the fire started. The injured driver works for Dupré Transportation, which owns the truck.

Hollier said the loading area was cleared but the facility was not evacuated. He said the facility sometimes handles chemicals, but could not say what was onsite at the time of the accident.

Jean Kelly, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said the department was still taking in information from law enforcement about the incident Tuesday.

Residents and workers along Fourth Street and on both sides of the canal said they could feel the explosion.

“My house shook,” said Steffan Schmit, who was standing in front of his bedroom window across the Harvey Canal on Grefer Ave. “It was a pretty loud boom.”

Darren Henning, parts manager for Metro Boating just across Fourth Street from the facility, was talking on the phone when the blast shook the walls.

“I said, ‘I gotta go, something blew up,’ ” he said.

Further down Fourth Street, in Folse Pharmacy at Farrington Drive, cashier Kasie Banks said the sound waves from the blast were more something felt than heard.

“I felt it in my ear,” she said, pointing from the back pharmacy counter toward the front of the store. “It came right through that window.”

At Metro Boating, Henning and technician Octavio Coker said there was a second, much smaller explosion a few minutes later. Schmit also said he heard two.

Henning said the fire from the first blast burned bright orange for about half an hour, first putting off black smoke, then white, they said.

“The flames were going about half, three-quarters of the way up the side of the tanks,” Henning said.

Coker and the others said they’re used to the sound of the alarm used to signal an evacuation because it is tested every Friday. But no alarm rang out.

“There’s chemicals in there you don’t want to inhale, so I was waiting for the alarm to go off,” he said.

The group stayed away from the glass doors as the police diverted traffic.

“I figured if they weren’t evacuating, we didn’t have to go anywhere,” Henning said.

And while the entrance to the facility remained blocked by a Sheriff’s Office patrol car just after 1 p.m., things were otherwise back to business as usual for Metro Boating.

At Folse Pharmacy, manager Joe Chivleatto said that Tuesday’s accident aside, he and others tend to go about their business without thinking much about their industrial neighbors. Of the regular Friday test siren, he said, “we just know it’s 12 o’clock.”

“It’s been here all my life,” he said of the facility. “We really just don’t pay much attention to it.”