SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Emergency measures officials say there were believed to be only “a couple” minor injuries from the massive oil refinery explosion that shook Saint John, N.B., this morning.
Geoffrey Downey of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization said none of the injuries were believed to be serious “at this point.”
The explosion at an Irving Oil refinery on the city’s eastern side set a fire and sent thick, black smoke pouring into the air.
Residents of the area described feeling an explosion shortly after 10 a.m., and noted that flames and smoke could be seen from a great distance.
A local hospital had issued an “orange alert,” meaning it was preparing for a possible influx of patients, while the City of Saint John advised residents to shelter in place.
Irving Oil tweeted out that all workers and personnel have been accounted for, adding there were no serious injuries.
As this is an active situation, we will be sharing more information as it becomes available. Thank you to all first responders who are working in response to this incident. 2/2
— Irving Oil (@irvingoil) October 8, 2018
“We’re very grateful today, and being Thanksgiving, I think it’s appropriate,” Kevin Scott, Irving Oil’s chief refining and supply officer, told reporters at an afternoon briefing after a tense day. “Very fortunate they had only minor injuries.”
Saint John residents described feeling an explosion at about 10:15 a.m. local time, at Irving’s refinery on the city’s east side.
“My whole house shook. I thought my furnace had exploded,” said Litsa Daeres, 34, who opened her curtains and saw the flames and thick, black smoke.
Scott said there had been a malfunction in the refinery’s diesel treating unit, where sulphur is removed from diesel fuel.
One worker at the refinery, who didn’t want to be identified, said the initial blast had been enough to knock him down
“There was quite a shockwave when the blast happened,” he said as he left with co-workers hours afterward.
There were as many as 3,000 workers on the refinery Monday _ but most of the facility was shut down for major maintenance, and nearly all of the workers were contractors working on the turn-around.
Scott said the unit was quickly shut down after the blast.
“The fire did take a number of hours to extinguish, with some of the material that had leaked into the area of the unit that was affected. At times we were letting that just safely extinguish itself,” he said.
Most of the minor injuries were to contractors, not Irving staff, he said.
The refinery is near several residential neighbourhoods, and is about five kilometres from the city core, known as Uptown.
It’s a massive facility and this large explosion was felt — quite literally — by those living in the area. One woman who lives near the refinery describes a massive boom, with the walls shaking.
“We were sitting here and all of a sudden this huge bang, we looked at each other and said, ‘did the furnace blow up?'” she recalls about the explosion. “And we open my blinds and the windows and all we saw was this huge cloud of black smoke.”
Irving Oil says it will update the public via social media as information becomes available.
— with files from The Canadian Press