Crews find body in La Porte plant hours after lab explosion at Air Liquide facility

February 9, 2013 5:40:42 PM PST
At least one person was injured and one remians missing after an explosion at a plant in La Porte, officials tell us.

According to authorities, the explosion happened just before 7:30am in a lab at an Air Liquide cylinder plant in the 11400 block of West Fairmont Parkway at Driftwood near Bay Area Boulevard.

Between 10 to 20 employees were inside the plant when it happened. By 6pm, one of them was still missing. His wife has identified him as 30-year-old Javier Ortiz.

"Our first priority was to get our folks out of the facility, batten down the hatches and get things safe, and now, of course, we're focused on searching for our employee," Air Liquide spokesperson Michael Rosen said.

Authorities say the search of Ortiz is still a rescue mission, and his family is staying hopeful.

"That's my brother in law, so the emotion is there, just like anyone would have," said Orlando Ramos, Ortiz's brother-in-law. "We're trying to stay positive and hopefully they find them. We're trying to get the word back, it's my brother in law."

Search crews are now using the canine unit from CyFair Fire Department to search for the missing employee, and though they have heavy equipment and a HAZMAT team on scene, the search hasn't been easy.

"Just a lot of damage, it's a metal-type structure building. There's a lot of debris and a lot of metal everywhere and we're having to work around that," Dean Hensley with the Harris County Fire Marshal'S Office said.

A second employee was injured the blast. He was taken by LifeFlight to UTMB's burn unit in Galveston, where his family says he is in critical condition.

"It is my understanding that he (the employee) sustained some burns," Rosen said.

That man's family say he's suffered burns to more than 75 percent of his body, and he's not speaking right now. They say the victim worked at the plant for at least 10 years and has two daughters.

Shelter-in-place orders were issued for La Porte and the southeast portion of Pasadena. According to Harris County Office of Emergency Management officials, the La Porte shelter in place was quickly lifted. The order in Pasadena was lifted by 9:45am.

"Everything's been cooled down. All the contents of the building are secure. At this point, there is some structural damage of the building," Air Liquide Spokesman Michael Rosen said.

Rosen said the plant mixes gases and chemicals for commercial use, and the fire started in the section of the plant where that mixing takes place. La Porte officials have been monitoring air quality and say there is no danger to the public.

"To our knowledge and from the authorities here who have been monitoring the air, nothing was released into the atmosphere except for the smoke you all saw," Rosen explained.

But until all of that was determined, nearby homeowners were on edge.

"It sounded like canons firing. We thought someone was banging on the garage door, a lot of noise and we just ran outside and started panicking," nearby resident Ivan Huerta said.

"You see the black smoke and then you'd see flames come up. And when the flames came up, you would hear a pop right after from either some drums or cylinders popping," nearby resident Ben Aleman said.

Residents now say they are not overly concerned about what happened.

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