The CF Industries nitrogen complex on the west bank of Ascension Parish remained without power Thursday evening after strong winds knocked out electricity about 2 p.m., a company official said.
Straight-line winds or a possible tornado knocked out power to most of the plant near Donaldsonville, according to Kurt Fordham, human resources manager for CF Industries.
“In essence, nothing is running right now. We are just shutting everything down in a controlled fashion as best as we can,” Fordham said Thursday afternoon.
None of the approximately 500 employees working at the plant were injured and all were accounted for, he said.
The plant is designed to shut down in a controlled fashion when something such as a major loss of power happens, Fordham said.
There was no danger of an explosion, he said.
The plant, which is on River Road near Donaldsonville, is the largest nitrogen fertilizer-producing complex in North America, the company said.
Products include urea, urea ammonium nitrate solution and ammonia, according to annual financial filings.
The National Weather Service is reporting the plant damage came from straight-line winds, unless an on-site survey shows otherwise, according to Matt Moreland, emergency response meteorologist with the Weather Service in Slidell.
Based on radar, winds appeared to exceed at least 50 mph, he said, while the storm front swept quickly over the area, dropping up to 1 inch of rain.
CF Industries does not generate its own power at the plant and relies on Entergy Corp, Fordham said.
Severe weather caused damage to some distribution facilities, a utility spokesman said, including a number of utility poles in the vicinity of Entergy’s Bayou Verret substation near Convent.
“Current indications are that, due to the amount of damage, restoration could take up to 24 hours,” wrote Molly Jahncke, spokeswoman for Entergy, in an email shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday.
“This time frame could change, of course, based on further damage assessment,” she said.
Whether the power loss caused an initial release of ammonia into the air is unclear, based on early reports, but Donaldsonville Fire Chief Chuck Montero said his department received reports that residents smelled ammonia vapors.
The state Department of Environmental Quality had not been able to confirm by Thursday evening the initial report that ammonia was released into the air, according to Peter Ricca, DEQ emergency response manager.
Fence-line monitoring did not detect ammonia and that he was unable to say what happened earlier, Ricca said.
“What I can say is that ammonia has a very low odor threshold. A very small amount of ammonia goes a long way, and people’s noses are pretty sensitive,” Ricca said.
Anhydrous ammonia can be a potentially life-threatening chemical in either gas or liquid form at higher concentrations.