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5 dead, 2 hurt in blast, fire at US refinery

world Updated: Apr 03, 2010 12:48 IST

AP
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US oil refinery, Tesoro Corp, says a fifth person has died of injuries suffered in a deadly blast and fire on Friday at the company's oil refinery at Anacortes, Washington.

On its Web site, Tesoro identified the fifth victim as 36-year-old Donna Van Dreumel, employed at the plant since 2001. She died Friday night at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Two other badly burned refinery employees are hospitalized in critical condition at Harborview. Killed at the scene were 31-year-old Matthew C Bowen of Arlington; 43-year-old Darrin J Hoines of Ferndale; and 50-year-old Daniel J Aldridge of Anacortes, according to the Skagit County coroner.

A 29-year-old woman died of her burns at Harborview earlier Friday; she was identified by the company as Kathryn Powell. Two other men were hospitalized with major burns over the majority of their bodies.

The blast struck the Tesoro Corp refinery in Anacortes, about 112 kilometers north of Seattle on Puget Sound, around 12:30 am.

Employees were doing maintenance work on a unit that processes highly flammable liquid derived during the refining process, the company said.

The blast shook houses and woke people kilometers away, shooting flames as high as the refinery's tower before the blaze was extinguished about 90 minutes later.

"We could tell this was horrific, this was huge," said Jan Taylor of La Conner, Washington, who felt the blast rock her motorhome at the RV park across the bay.

The oil refinery hit by a deadly blast and fire on Friday was recently fined for safety violations amid what federal watchdogs call a troubling trend of serious accidents at refineries.

It was the largest fatal refinery accident since a 2005 explosion at a BP American refinery in Texas killed 15 people and injured another 170.

Six investigators with the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board were dispatched to the scene, and the Washington Department of Labor and Industries launched an investigation.

The agency fined the San Antonio-based company USD 85,700 last April for 17 serious safety and health violations, defined as those with potential to cause death or serious physical injury.

Inspectors found 150 instances of deficiencies and said the company didn't ensure safe work practices and failed to update safety information when changes were made to equipment.

In November, the state reached a settlement with Tesoro, requiring in part that the company correct the hazards and hire a third-party consultant to do a safety audit. The settlement reduced the total penalty to USD 12,250 and lowered the number of violations to three.

"We don't know if any of those hazards were involved in the incident that happened today," said Hector Castro, spokesman for the state labor department. The company was also fined USD 6,000 for two serious violations in 2005, and another USD 6,000 for two serious violations in 2007, Castro said.

Jeff Haffner, associate general counsel for Tesoro, said the third-party audit was completed in the past few weeks, but the consulting firm hired had not yet issued its report. Most of the items involved requirements for managing safety, he said.

"There's no way for us to know whether the subject matter of any of those items were related, if at all, to this incident, because we don't know what caused the incident," Haffner said.

The company is conducting its own investigation into the fire, he said.

The state inspections were part of a national effort to examine all petroleum refineries in the United States after the 2005 explosion in Texas.

Of the 18 major accidents the US chemical safety board is currently examining, at least seven are at refineries, said Daniel Horowitz, spokesman for the board. Yet there are only 150 refineries in America and tens of thousands of other chemical plants.

"Our board is extremely concerned about safety in this sector," Horowitz told The Associated Press.

"There's been a lot of accidents in the refining sector. There's been a lot of safety violations."

Tesoro is an independent refiner and marketer of petroleum products.