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Three More Bodies Found In Refinery Blast; Rocket Fuel Maker Had Been Cited

May 7, 1988

Undated (AP) _ Rescuers found three more bodies in the rubble of a Louisiana oil refinery blast, bringing the death toll to six with one worker still missing. In all, nine people were confirmed dead this week in three fiery disasters nationwide.

Late Friday, an explosion at a fourth site, a pulp and paper mill in Roaring Spring, Pa., spewed chemical fumes that prompted the evacuation of the town’s 2,600 residents, authorities said. Forty people were treated for respiratory problems, but no serious injuries were reported.

The Pennsylvania blaze erupted about 10 p.m. in the boiler room of Appleton Papers Inc., authorities said. It was brought under control by midnight and residents began returning to their homes early today, police said.

In Henderson, Nev., site of a rocket fuel plant leveled by explosions, residents were alarmed Friday by news that the plant had been cited four times in the last five years for serious safety violations.

″We don’t have a facility big enough here to hold all the protesters if they try and rebuild there,″ said city manager Gary Bloomquist. ″I’d be totally amazed if that was allowed to happen.″

The thunderous blasts Wednesday, which registered earthquake force on seismographs, killed two workers and injured several hundred residents.

In Los Angeles, where a fire devastated the city’s tallest skyscraper, fire officials, legislators and politicians called for a law requiring sprinklers in high-rise buildings. The blaze, which began late Wednesday, killed one person and injured 40.

In Louisiana, the three bodies found Friday night at the Shell Oil Co. refinery in Norco were so badly burned they could not be identified immediately, company officials said.

Rescuers planned to search again today for the last missing victim of the explosion and fire, which injured 42 early Thursday. The search was hampered by several small fires, thick smoke and huge pieces of mangled equipment.

Workers with protective clothing and oxygen tanks found the bodies of two men early Friday in the control room of the gasoline-refining unit that exploded. The body of another was found near the flaming catalytic cracker shortly after the blast.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency sent investigators to assist in determining the cause of the blast in the 25-year-old catalytic cracking unit.

″You have to see the devastation to believe it. The area around the cat cracker is really tore up,″ said Dean Perniciaro, president of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union local.

Chemical engineers said they could find no record of an explosion by a catalytic cracker.

In Henderson, worried residents sought to keep another Henderson rocket fuel plant shut, demanding assurances there is no danger of a repeat of Wednesday’s explosions.

″We’ve created a monster of fear,″ said Henderson City Councilman Michael Harris. ″I don’t think anybody other than maybe some of those that really knew the plants knew the potential hazard inside.″

Harris said he received numerous calls from residents voicing opposition to rebuilding the plant, which Pacific Engineering and Production Co. said it would do within six months.

State officials released information Friday showing Pacific Engineering received four citations for serious violations that resulted in fines since 1983, but Jim Barnes, the state Industrial Relations director, refused to say what the violations were.

″Our opinion is that overall their record has been a good, moderate record,″ Barnes said.

Henderson officials met with executives from Kerr-McGee Corp., which also manufactures ammonium perchlorate and voluntarily halted production Thursday, but Kerr-McGee said its plant has operated 35 years without an accident.

Two Pacific Engineering executives were killed and 326 people were treated for injuries after the four powerful blasts, which severely damaged scores of Henderson buildings. City manager Gary Bloomquist said initial damage estimates exceeded $100 million.

Six people remained hospitalized, including a 5-day-old baby cut by flying glass.

In Los Angeles, the cause of the fire that killed a janitor, injured 40 other people and destroyed 4 1/2 floors of the 62-story First Interstate Bank tower remained under investigation.

The tower, built in 1973, lacked sprinklers, which fire officials said would have minimized the disaster. The city’s fire code was changed in 1974 to require the safety devices.

Fire officials said the initial damage estimate of $450 million was thought to be too high and was being recalculated.

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