Originally created 07/06/99

Workers injured in chemical plant explosions

GRAMERCY, La. -- Explosions rocked an aluminum plant early Monday, spraying a red mist containing a corrosive chemical over residential areas and sending dozens of people to hospitals.

The explosions at the Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Co. plant shook houses and broke windows. Authorities told residents to stay indoors and close their windows for nearly seven hours.

"It sounded like 10 shotguns fired all at once," said Cline Cockburn, who was taking a bath when the explosions shook his house, about 600 yards from the plant.

Residents complaining of nausea and respiratory problems swamped the emergency room at St. James Parish Hospital. All were treated and released.

Nineteen workers were treated in a hospital, with four taken to burn units. Another worker suffered eye injuries and one underwent surgery for cuts. The others were released.

Kaiser spokeswoman Susan Ashe said the cause of the explosions was under investigation. The plant was shut down indefinitely.

The explosions occurred in a part of the plant where electricity is generated and where bauxite, a reddish and clay-like aluminum ore, is mixed with a liquid form of sodium hydroxide, a caustic chemical.

The explosions blew a cloud of the mixture into the air -- speckling cars, homes and people who happened to be outside.

Cockburn said he first rinsed off his house and dog, then hosed off his normally reddish truck and his wife's car. "My wife's car wasn't silver anymore. It matched mine," he said.

Larry Jones was finishing up the long Fourth of July weekend with friends at a bar about a mile from the plant. His arms and clothes were speckled with the red mixture and his vehicle looked like it had been driven on a muddy road.


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