Authorities did not allow residents to return to their homes after gangs extinguished a fire at a Wisconsin refinery, where an explosion injured at least 11 people and forced the majority of the city to evacuate.
Douglas County officials said Thursday night, the fire at the Husky Energy oil refinery was out and residents could return home, but wait at least two hours before doing so. But late on Thursday, the senior police gave another update, saying that the evacuation order would remain and be re-evaluated during the night.
Authorities said that a tank of crude oil or asphalt exploded around 10 a.m. Thursday at the Superior refinery, a city of approximately 27,000 that shares a shipping port of Lake Superior with nearby Duluth, Minnesota. That led them to order the evacuation of a 5-kilometer radius around the refinery, as well as a 10-mile (16-kilometer) corridor south of where the smoke was heading.
It was not clear how many people evacuated, but Mayor Jim Paine said that most of the city was being evacuated. The refinery is in an industrial area, but there is a residential neighborhood one mile northeast. The leeward corridor to the south of the refinery is sparsely populated. Schools in Superior and nearby Maple, Wisconsin, canceled classes on Friday as a precautionary measure.
Hospital officials said only one of the injured was seriously injured, with what was described as an explosion injury. No deaths were reported, and authorities said that all workers had been counted.
Thick black smoke that could be seen for miles left the refinery hours after the explosion. The manager of the refinery, Kollin Schade, said the smoke came from the burning of asphalt so hot that firefighters could not attack the fire to try to extinguish it. Emergency officials then said that another tank had also caught fire, although they did not specify what it contained.
A team of four from the US Chemical Safety Board. UU Will investigate the explosion. The board makes safety recommendations after serious chemical incidents.
The fire went out around 11:20 am but was re-ignited, which caused police to block roads in the area around the refinery Three schools and St. Mary's Hospital in Superior were evacuated as a precaution.
A contractor inside the building told the WDIO television that the explosion sounded like "a sonic boom" and that it happened when or the teams were working on sh discarding the plant for repairs.
Kara Tudor, 30, and Julia Johnson, 27, lived about 2 kilometers from the refinery and were ordered to evacuate. They quickly picked up their two dogs and three cats, grabbed their toothbrushes and headed to a friend's house in Duluth, where they were watching the news for updates.
Johnson, who was working from home at the time of the explosion, said the windows trembled.
"I felt as if something had hit the house, like a vehicle or a branch of a tree … Our dogs started barking, it was a stressful moment," Johnson said.
Tudor, a scientist at a research company, said residents were not told much about the potential danger, what was in the smoke or why it was so black. But he said it was clear that people should not have been breathing and wondered how the quality of water and air will affect.
Oil smoke can contain a mixture of harmful hydrocarbons and other chemicals with short and long term health effects.
The radar of the National Meteorological Service showed that the plume of smoke extended to the south-southeast, taking it to sparsely populated areas. The weather service said winds are expected to weaken on Thursday afternoon and eventually switch to Lake Superior. He said the smoke probably would not affect Duluth, a city of about 87,000.
Husky Energy, based in Calgary, Alberta, purchased the refinery from Calumet Specialty Products Partners, headquartered in Indianapolis, last year for more than $ 490 million. It is the only refinery in Wisconsin, and produces gasoline, asphalt and other products.
The refinery had been fined by federal officials several years ago under its previous owners. US Department of Labor spokesman Scott Allen said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Calumet Superior LLC $ 21,000 for emergency response and flammable liquid violations in 2015. The violations were resolved and the problems were resolved. They resolved by the end of that year.
Allen said it was the only OSHA compliance action taken against Calumet Superior LLC in the past 20 years. Superior Calumet operates as a subsidiary of Calumet Specialty Products Partners, which sold the plant to Husky Energy last year.
The refinery, which dates back to the early 1950s, has a processing capacity of around 50,000 barrels per day and a storage capacity of 3.6 million barrels of crude and products. It processes both heavy oil from Canadian tar sands in Alberta and lighter crude from North Dakota Bakken.
The writers of The Associated Press Steve Karnowski and Doug Glass in Minneapolis, and Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.