By Terry L. Jones
June 23, 2012
PORT ALLEN — Residents living within a one-mile radius of the Air Liquide Speciality Chemicals plant were given the OK to return home, and a portion of U.S. 190 reopened Wednesday morning following Monday’s explosion and chemical fire at the Port Allen site.
However, what caused the fire remained under investigation, officials said.
More than 200 residents were forced to abandon their homes Monday morning after hundreds of acetylene-filled cylinders caught fire, setting off a series of explosions and a stubborn fire that emergency service crews spent two days extinguishing, authorities said.
Air Liquide issued evacuees vouchers to stay in hotels and motels while they were barred from their homes in the danger zone, the American Red Cross reported.
An Air Liquide employee was treated at a hospital Monday afternoon for minor burns and released.
The 14-mile stretch of U.S. 190 between Erwinville and Port Allen was shut down to motorists on Monday while emergency crews secured the blast site by removing several hundred of the unaffected and damaged cylinders.
State Police spokesman Stephen Hammons said the highway was reopened and the evacuation order lifted just before 8:15 a.m. Wednesday.
Residents were asked to inspect their property for debris from the fire, Hammons said. Anyone who locates such material is asked not to touch it and to call Air Liquide at (800) 292-1155. A disposal crew will be sent to properly dispose of the material, he said.
Hammons said emergency responders and other personnel still cleaning up the site as of Wednesday afternoon were joined by representatives from Air Liquide.
Air Liquide spokesman George Smalley confirmed the cause of the fire had yet to be determined, but the company representatives on-site Wednesday had opened an investigation into the incident.
“These kinds of things take time,” Smalley said. “You can’t determine cause that quickly in most instances like this.”
Smalley added he didn’t want to speculate when the Port Allen site would resume normal operations.