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New York Times: Archive News Report from 7 May 1988 (explosion at Norco Shell Oil refinery)

Headline: Death Toll Up to 6 in Blast 

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: May 7, 1988

LEAD: Workers wearing protective clothing and carrying oxygen tanks found three bodies in the hot, twisted ruins of a Shell Oil refinery in Norco, La., last night, raising the death toll from an explosion to six. One person was missing.

Workers wearing protective clothing and carrying oxygen tanks found three bodies in the hot, twisted ruins of a Shell Oil refinery in Norco, La., last night, raising the death toll from an explosion to six. One person was missing.

Emergency crews had discovered two other bodies earlier yesterday and one was recovered shortly after the blast Thursday that shattered windows 30 miles away and injured 42 people.

In Henderson, Nev., where two died and 326 people were hurt when a rocket-fuel plant exploded on Wednesday, city officials met with owners of a similar plant nearby.

”We’ve created a monster of fear,” said 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.”

Damage estimates in the explosion at the Pacific Engineering and Production plant exceeded $100 million. Executives of the Kerr-McGee Corporation, which makes the same ammonium perchlorate a mile away, voluntarily shut down and met with city officials to discuss plant safety.

In Louisiana, the air was still heavy with fumes as members of the Shell plant emergency crew crawled through the maze of hot, twisted metal.

The three bodies found last night were so badly burned they could not immediately be identified. The bodies of Joey Poierrer, 28 years old, of Reserve, and Ernie Carrillo, 44, of Kenner, were found earlier in the control room for the gasoline-processing unit. The body of a 20-year Shell employee, Lloyd Gregoire, 39, of Paulina, was found shortly after the explosion.

Small, stubborn fires continued to burn, fueled by residual gasoline and oil in tangled lines and equipment. Police officers were patrolling virtually windowless Norco to protect the town’s bank, furniture store and other businesses.

Meanwhile, investigators from the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency arrived to help determine what caused the blast.

The catalytic cracking unit, used to break crude oil down into usable products like gasoline, was at the center of the blast. But chemical engineers said they could find no record of an explosion by a catalytic cracker.

Residents of Norco, on the heavily industrialized, 75-mile petrochemical corridor near New Orleans, said they were fed up over recurring emergencies that have forced them to evacuate their homes eight times in 12 years.

”People were literally frightened out of their minds,” said J. T. Hill, a New Orleans lawyer who filed a $25 billion lawsuit within hours of the explosion.

Damage was sustained on both sides of the mile-wide Mississippi River, and Shell Oil said people needing repair materials could charge them to the company’s account at lumber yards on the river’s east and west banks.

In Baton Rouge, Gov. Buddy Roemer said he did not plan to ask for Federal disaster assistance because of Shell’s willingness to accept responsibility for damages.

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