An oil rig in Lake Pontchartrain, La. exploded Sunday night, leaving seven people injured – five of them critically – with one person still missing, NBC News reported.
Reports of fire and smoke being seen from Lake Pontchartrain first came in around 8:20 ET Sunday night, according to Jefferson Parish spokesman Antwan Harris. The explosion took place about a mile-and-a-half from the shore of the lake, which is located north of New Orleans. Flames could be seen from the area and the air smelled of burning rubber. The cause of the explosion remained unknown early Monday, and authorities said it was too soon to tell whether any oil had spilled. Ben Zahn, the mayor of nearby Kenner, said no homes were threatened.
First responders from St. Charles Parish, Jefferson Parish, Kenner, the US Coast Guard, East Jefferson General Hospital EMS and Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries responded to the explosion. “Several people have been rescued from the active fire on the rig,” Harris said.
“Authorities on the scene report that cleaning chemicals ignited on the surface of the oil rig platform,” the City of Kenner Government posted on its Facebook page Sunday evening.
Five of the injured were taken to University Medical Center with “blast type injuries and burns” and are in critical condition. The other two are in stable condition at East Jefferson General Hospital. Search and rescue efforts were continuing as of Monday morning, ABC reported.
The Coast Guard said it was coordinating search efforts for a missing man. Meanwhile, authorities asked that residents avoid the area as much as possible as the Coast Guard said it had no further details.
Authorities said workers at the rig were cleaning a chemical on the platform when the explosion occurred.
A Facebook post from the City of Kenner Government noted that the fire ignited because of “cleaning chemicals … on the surface of the oil rig platform,” but Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto would not confirm that was the catalyst. Authorities will perform an investigation when the fire is out, he said. Flames could be seen on the lake Sunday night from the area around the Kenner boat launch, and the air smelled like burning rubber, the New Orleans Times Picayune reported.
Several nearby residents told the Times-Picayune that their houses shook from the explosion.
Andrew Love, 32, said he was inside his house about 10 blocks away when he heard the explosion. “My house actually shook,” he said. “At first I thought it was a sonic boom or something, I had no idea what was happening.” Stacy Oddo, was in her home near East Jefferson Hospital on Sunday evening when she said she hear the explosion. “It was a loud “boom.” I thought it was a car accident or something.”
The oil platform, which is located in unincorporated Jefferson Parish, is in production and owned by Clovelly Oil Co. East Bank Consolidated Fire Department Chief David Tibbets said Sunday that the platform is used for the transfer of oil, and the department’s goal currently is to stop the oil flow and, if needed, let it burn off safely.