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Published: Monday, 2/18/2008

Blast at Texas oil refinery shuts interstate; 4 injured

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Thick smoke is seen after multiple explosions rocked an oil refinery in Big Spring, Texas, today. Thick smoke is seen after multiple explosions rocked an oil refinery in Big Spring, Texas, today.
TIM FISCHER / AP Enlarge

BIG SPRING, Texas An explosion rocked an oil refinery Monday in a violent blast that shook buildings miles away and injured at least four people, the mayor said.

All workers were accounted for about an hour after the explosion, said Blake Lewis, spokesman for refinery owner Alon USA.

Lewis initially said one worker was injured, but Big Spring Mayor Russ McEwen later said four were hurt. McEwen said one of the workers was sent to a burn unit.

The fire sparked by the blast was under control Monday morning, Lewis said. The Dallas-based company does not know what caused the explosion, he said.

The blast sent black smoke billowing into the sky, closed schools, shut down a major interstate and left residents rattled.

It was extremely scary. You shook you were so scared, said Laura McEwen, the mayor s wife who lives about two miles from the refinery. Our walls shook. It jolted your bed. It was like an earthquake.

John Moseley, managing editor of the Big Spring Herald whose downtown office is also about two miles from the refinery, said, I thought it would knock the walls down.

Two elementary schools were evacuated, then classes were canceled at all nine campuses in the Big Spring school district, assistant superintendent Carie Dunnam said.

Classes also were canceled at Howard College, according to the two-year junior college s Web site.

The explosion forced open the doors of the school district s administration building about four miles from the plant, Dunnam said.

Literally pieces of my ceiling came on top of my head, she said.

Bus routes were affected by road closures and that emergency officials were warning of the potential for more explosions, Dunnam said. Parents were asked to pick up their children, she said.

The refinery employs about 170 people and has the capacity to put out about 70,000 barrels a day.

Interstate 20 was shut down near the plant, Big Spring police spokesman Roger Sweatt said.

There s some fire and a whole bunch of smoke, Sweatt said.

Big Spring is about halfway between Dallas and El Paso.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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