Update: Explosion at Delek Refining in Tyler leaves four injured

Published: Nov. 20, 2008 at 7:16 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 21, 2008 at 12:21 AM CST
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A patient being wheeled into ETMC after the refinery explosion.
A patient being wheeled into ETMC after the refinery explosion.

TYLER, TX - (KLTV) Clean up crews are continuing their work at Delek Refining in Tyler after an explosion at the local petroleum refinery, formerly known as La Gloria, that caused at least four injuries. The cause of the explosion, which happened just before 2:00 pm Thursday, is still being sought. OSHA says that its investigators are en route to Delek, and will take the lead in the investigation.

Traffic was shut down around the refinery, which is north of Highway 31 close to Loop 323 on the east side of Tyler. Tyler Police reopened traffic to the area at about 5:00 pm Thursday afternoon.

Noel Ryan, the Director of Investor Relations for Delek US Holdings told KLTV 7 around 4:00 pm Thursday that all workers were accounted for and that the fire started and was concentrated to the sat-gas area of the refinery. That was confirmed by the Tyler Fire Department.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospital spokesperson John Moore said that they have received one worker, 43 year old Brett Wells, who will be treated and released. Wells is in good condition.

East Texas Medical Center (ETMC) spokesperson Rebecca Berkley confirmed that one man is currently at ETMC in good condition. He's expected to be kept overnight for observation. Two men were transported from ETMC by Air-1 to Parkland Hospital in Dallas for burns; both of those men are in critical condition.

Tyler Fire Chief David Schlottach said that after the fire crews knocked out the initial fire at the refinery, it actually re-ignited.

"From what I under they had a fracture on another line, so they had to reactivate the firefighting operations," said Chief Schlottach.

Fortunately, Schlottach says crews were far enough away when that second fire started, so none of them were hurt. Police blocked off streets around the refinery, keeping drivers out of the way. But Tyler Police PIO Don Martin says there was no threat to move out residents nearby.

"We've been given no reason to evacuate the neighborhoods. Plant officials have not given us any order that we need to evacuate because of the fumes."

Fire crews have now begin the long and arduous task of clean-up.

For hours, residents in the neighborhood mere yards away from the refinery were at a standstill, just watching the smoke climb higher into the air. Some told KLTV 7 News that they hear little bangs and booms all the time, but nothing like they heard or felt Thursday afternoon.

"We just heard a big explosion and it knocked pictures off my wall, and I knew definitely something had happened," said Joyce Hubbard, who lives nearby, "and instantly...just right after that, the sirens went off."

"I live right around the corner and I was doing some work and all of sudden I heard this big old boom," said Marie Gipson.

"Everybody in Tyler has come by here to see that thing," said Ray Hubbard. "It was bumper to bumper."

The refinery employs about 270 people, and has a capacity of 60,000 barrels per day. It's the 94th largest oil refinery in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

And, a little history on Delek Refining in Tyler -  the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) performed a planned inspection back in February, after which Delek was fined a total of over $68,000. Most of the fines were for process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also penalized the company over $230,000 for excess production and equipment failure violations in February.

Please stay tuned to KLTV 7 and KLTV.com for any updates.

KLTV 7's Courtney Lane, Layron Livingston, and Danielle Capper contributed to this report.

Cathryn Khalil / ckhalil@kltv.com