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Fire Causes Explosions at Louisiana Chemical Plant

The plant handles ethylene oxide.

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PLAQUEMINE, La. (AP) — A fire at a Louisiana chemical plant triggered explosions that shook homes several miles away and sent flames and smoke billowing into the air, prompting emergency officials to urge a few hundred nearby residents to shelter indoors for several hours and to turn off their air conditioners.

Flames erupted late Friday at Dow Chemical's plant on the Mississippi River near Plaquemine, south of Baton Rouge. Iberville Parish officials told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate that the fire started in an area of the plant that handles ethylene oxide, a flammable and toxic chemical.

The parish's sheriff, Bret Stassi, said no one was injured and that the company had accounted for all its workers.

Residents of roughly 350 households within a half-mile (0.80 kilometers) of the plant were told to shelter inside for several hours overnight. As Dow Chemical and environmental officials monitored the air for hazardous materials, emergency officials urged sheltering residents to shut off their air conditioners and ceiling fans.

The Iberville Parish Council said in a statement early Saturday that no hazards had been detected and that people could leave their homes.

"Crews have substantially reduced the fire and are working to fully extinguish it," Dow Chemical said in a statement Saturday. The company said it was continuing to monitor air quality along with state environmental officials and a third-party contractor.

Even short exposure to ethylene oxide can cause lung injuries, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which says the chemical has also been linked to cancer in people with long-term exposure.

The sheriff told WBRZ-TV that six explosions were detected at the plant around 9:30 p.m. Friday. Tall flames could be seen rising from the site, with thick smoke overhead.

Residents felt their homes shake in Baton Rouge, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) away, WAFB-TV reported.

Kenneth Haydel said he was with family members near the plant when they heard several loud explosions a few seconds apart.

"We looked up in the sky and the whole sky was lit up orange," Haydel said.

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