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UPDATE: 6 of the 7 injured in DeRidder explosion have been relea - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

UPDATE: 6 of the 7 injured in DeRidder explosion have been released from hospital

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Officers have blocked off the area about a mile away from where the explosion happened. Officers have blocked off the area about a mile away from where the explosion happened.

UPDATE: Six of the seven victims, who were injured in a plant explosion in DeRidder this morning, have been released from the hospital, according to KPLC.

KATC spoke with a spokeswoman with the Rapides Regional Medical Center, who says two victims were admitted into the hospital for treatment. One person has since been released, while the other remains hospitalized and is in fair condition. 

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A tank at a packaging plant exploded in DeRidder this morning, killing three contractors and injuring at least seven, according to State Police.

The explosion happened around 11 a.m. at the Packaging Corporation of America, an old paper mill, said Chief Deputy Joe Toler of the Beauregard Sheriff's Office. 

Three men, all contractors, are confirmed dead, a PCA statement confirms. An unaccounted for person reported earlier has been located and is safe. State police have confirmed that there are six minor injuries and one moderate injury after the explosion.

Contractors were working on the tank that exploded, and at least some of the people who died were contractors, a state police spokesman said. However, he said he wasn't able to say how many of the men killed were contractors and how many were plant employees. 

PCA issued a statement late Wednesday: 

"At approximately 11:10 am CST, Wednesday, February 8th, there was an explosion at our DeRidder, LA paper mill. The incident involved annual repair work being performed on piping in the pulp mill area and resulted in three contractor fatalities. The cause of the incident is under investigation. 

Our primary concern is for the safety and well-being of the people working on our site.  The top priorities at this time are the notification of families of the deceased contractors and investigation of the incident with authorities.

At the time of the incident, the D1 machine was down for its annual outage and the D3 machine was running and continues to operate.  The current assessment indicates that the annual outage work is expected to be delayed by up to one week and the mill will then resume full operation.  Further information will be provided, as appropriate, when it becomes available."

By noon on Wednesday, the scene was under control now, but no information was available yet on what was in the tanks or what caused the explosion, Toler said.  Later Wednesday, State Police said the tank was 25 feet high, the fire was out, and there is no chemical hazard.

Shortly before 3 p.m., Acadian Ambulance spokesman Randall Mann said seven people were transported by AASI, two by air. He had no information on the severity of their injuries. Three were transported to the hospital in DeRidder; one has since been treated and released. 

The Lake Forest-Illinois-based PCA acquired the old Boise paper mill in 2013. The plant is located on U.S. 190. 

According to the Beauregard Parish Sheriff, any family needing information about their loved ones or that have not been able to contact them, are asked to go to the Beauregard Covered Arena on Hwy 190. Dispatchers are getting an overwhelming amount of phone calls, but they do not have any information as far as names involved. 

Brant Hanson, Human Resources Officer with PCA, said of those involved in the incident. "There are some families right now that are hurting. They need your thoughts and prayers." 

Governor John Bel Edwards is in Washington D.C. tonight, and he gave an update on the situation to the delegates.  According to U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, the governor was "very concerned" about the situation and was getting frequent updates.  Higgins said they were scheduled to meet about the flood, so they also got an update on the explosion.  He said the governor said the situation apparently stemmed from a welding operation being done at PCA on a tank that contained wood chips.  The wood chips, when they deteriorate, create a flammable gas which ignited.

The incident appears similar to a 2008 CPA plant explosion in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, where three workers will killed and one injured.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigated the incident. They determined sparks from a welding operation atop a storage tank ignited flammable gas, which had been emitting from anaerobic bacteria inside the tank.

Feeding on the organic fiber waste inside the tank, "the bacteria likely produced hydrogen, a highly flammable gas," according to a safety bulletin released after the incident. 

At the time of the incident, "PCA supervisors and workers were unaware of the risks of flammable gas production from anaerobic bacteria growth," according to the CSB. "PCA did not perform a hazard analysis or recognize fiber waste tanks as potentially hazardous."

PCA has history of worker fatalities and safety violations.  Read more HERE.

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, issued the following statement: 

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, tweeted: 

KATC's Valerie Ponseti was live at Beauregard Hospital with an update on the condition of those injured:

LA State Police gave an update on the explosion with KATC's Kendria LaFleur on scene of the PCA facility:

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