Oil Refinery Blast Rocks L.A. Area -- 16 Slightly Hurt In Explosion Felt 10 Miles Away

LOS ANGELES - A powerful explosion at an oil refinery rocked a wide area of south Los Angeles, injuring 16 people slightly and leaving part of the plant still burning today.

Yesterday's blast occurred in a 6-by-10-foot tank that mixes oil with hydrocarbons to make gas, but its cause wasn't known, Deputy Fire Chief Davis Parsons said.

The blast shattered windows two miles away from the refinery in suburban Wilmington, 20 miles south of downtown, and was felt at least 10 miles away.

A light haze and the putrid smell of hydrogen sulfide, considered a poisonous gas, hung in the air, but company officials said no toxic gases were released.

Plant officials shut off reservoirs feeding hydrogen to the complex, hoping the fire would burn itself out.

Officials urged people to leave the area and about 600 people spent the night in shelters, police said.

Russ Kaurloto, who lives about five miles away, said flames reached more than 100 feet into the air last night.

"There was a rumbling and the house just shook," he said.

All of the approximately 30 workers who were in the plant when the explosion occurred around 9:45 p.m. were accounted for, said Randy Jewett, supervisor of Texaco's environmental department.

One worker, Lyndal Mize, 40, who escaped with minor injuries, said the blast pitched him through the air. "I was literally catapulted - it blew me about 12 feet," he said. "I tumbled in midair, did kind of a half-somersault shoulder roll I remembered from my football days and came up running."

Fire Battalion Chief Rick Warford said the blast appears to have knocked out an automatic shutdown system and that firefighters had to manually close valves feeding fuel to the blaze.

Jewett said the plant would close for a few days. The plant, which covers about 350 acres, refines oil and gas from crude.