Explosion rocks Houston refinery, injuring one person

An explosion set fire to a Houston refinery Sunday as workers tried to restart gasoline-producing equipment that had been shut down since Hurricane Rita.

One contract worker suffered minor burns to his hands and arms, according to a spokesman for the plant, a joint venture of Lyondell Chemical Co. and Citgo Petroleum Corp.

The fire was extinguished within an hour, but it likely would be a few days before workers can get in to that part of the plant to assess the damage and determine what went wrong, said Jack Williams, a district chief with the Houston Fire Department.

The blaze started as workers were trying to restart a fluid catalytic cracking unit, which converts a diesel-like product into gasoline, said Lyondell-Citgo spokesman David Harpole.

The unit had been shut off last month when Hurricane Rita threatened the Houston-area and was kept off for maintenance, Harpole said.

"When we started it up after the hurricane, we found some mechanical issues," he said. "We had been conducting maintenance. Noon was the scheduled restart time."

Other units at the refinery have been restarted since the hurricane and the facility remains at 50 percent capacity. At full strength, the refinery produces 268,000 barrels a day of crude oil.

The refinery covers around 700 acres (280 hectares) along the Houston Ship Channel and has about 875 employees. It manufactures such petroleum products as gasoline, diesel, heating oil, jet fuel and lubricants.

No detectable concentration of anything harmful was found in the air from the blaze, Harpole said, AP reported. V.A.

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