Thursday’s deadly explosion at a chemical plant near the Ascension Parish and Iberville Parish line provided a stark reminder of the inherent dangers in petrochemical processing. That reality looms large in south Louisiana, where a dense corridor of petrochemical plants helps drive a big part of the regional economy. The industry’s local footprint was evident in Thursday’s accident, which affected neighborhoods and institutions many miles from the explosion.
The explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins chemical plant in Geismar killed at least one person and injured dozens of others, according to official reports available at press time. We know that the thoughts and prayers of many people throughout south Louisiana and, indeed, the world, are with the victims of Thursday’s blast.
Caring for the accident victims must be the first priority, of course, but we hope that a thorough investigation can determine how the blast happened — and what might be done to help prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Thursday’s explosion, coming on the heels of a blast at a Texas fertilizer plant in April that killed 15 people, promises to renew national attention on industrial safety.
Tragedies like this also test the capabilities of emergency response personnel. We assume that that there will be assessments in coming days of how well existing response plans performed in answering the explosion in Geismar.
Such plans can always be refined, but we were impressed on Thursday by the swiftness of the first-responders and the apparent cooperation among police, firefighters and medical staff. That collaboration underscored the importance of emergency response planning, which has become an even greater part of civic life since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Many south Louisiana residents still remember the Christmas Eve, 1989 Exxon refinery blast that killed three people and shook buildings for miles around. We suspect that Thursday’s blast will also figure prominently in historical memory, but for now, the impact of the accident is much too raw to consider in the past tense.
The coming days must be a time of healing for south Louisiana, and we have faith that its people will prevail.