One person killed in chemical release

June 11, 2008 5:43:14 PM PDT
One person is dead, and six others hurt after an explosion at a chemical plant that rocked a nearby neighborhood. And now, we are finally getting answers to why it took so long to find out what really happened there. It happened at the Goodyear plant off Highway 225 in southeast Houston Wednesday morning. There was an ammonia leak there and Goodyear leaders were telling us everything was under control. Then hours later, we were told someone died there and someone was in intensive care.

The explosion could be felt for miles.

"It shook my bed pretty good," said Mario Calderone, who lives near the plant. "It woke us up."

But despite a massive evacuation and a reported six injuries, plant officials insisted there were no lives in danger.

"There were no life-threatening injuries," said Goodyear plant manager Mike Lockwood around 10:30 Wednesday morning, a little over three hours after the blast. "All the people that were sent are up and talking."

But all that changed around 2pm, when during a walk-through, the body of a female employee was found. Authorities believe she had been lying there several hours since the explosion.

"My understanding is she's in the explosion area within several feet," said Houston Fire Department Assistant Chief Jack Williams. "I don't know who discovered the body. I assume it was someone from Goodyear."

Plant officials say it was an accounting error which led to the late discovery. Goodyear does have a process to keep track of employees, but apparently confusion occurred when the employee was last seen.

"The confusion occurred when he had seen this associate earlier in the day just prior to the explosion," said Lockwood.

Even more confusion stems from the six so-called 'minor' injuries. Hospital officials tell us one patient remains in critical condition, and another in intensive care, certainly no one's definition of 'minor.'

Lockwood says he can't explain the discrepancy. He says five employees have already been released from the hospital.

As for the woman who was killed, she's a longtime employee of the plant and a supervisor. Her identity is not being released.

We did some checking and found there have been no accidents reported at the Goodyear plant in the past 10 years. The plant has received 10 citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Seven of those were classified as serious violations. Penalties ranged from $488 to $3,500. One person collapsed and died of a heart attack at the plant back in 1999, due in part to the toxic environment at work.

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