MELVINDALE, Mich. – An explosion rocked the Marathon Oil refinery, causing police to evacuate hundreds of people who lived nearby. Officials said the blast was linked to the nation's massive power outage.
The Thursday evening explosion occurred in one of the plant's vessels — smoke stacks that can be seen burning off gases produced by the plant, Melvindale Fire Chief Sam Pedron said.
Pedron said the widespread power outage that spread to parts of Michigan affected a pump at the 183-acre complex, which produces gasoline as well as jet and other fuels. That caused a buildup of pressure which ultimately triggered the explosion, Pedron said.
Unsure if another explosion was possible or if the gasses were toxic, officials evacuated one square-mile around the plant. Fires of the company's other stacks flared to try to clear the facility of excess gas and smoke.
"If this thing pops you're going to have fallout," Pedron said, explaining that a more powerful explosion in one of the stacks could rain down sheet metal and other parts on this neighborhood about 10 miles southwest of Detroit.
Marathon officials did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.
Officials also closed both northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 75 that run alongside the facility.
Henry Zalasko, 56, was at his Melvindale home, which had no power because of the blackout, about a quarter-mile from the refinery when state police pounded on his door. Zalasko said he was told he and his family must leave immediately and seek refuge at the city's ice rink.
He and about 200 other people sat inside on chairs, tried to sleep on the floor or remained in their cars in the rink's parking lot, waiting for answers. While his wife and two children tried to sleep, Zalasko propped a four-inch TV on the hood of his car to keep up with the news.
"It's been miserable. It's a nightmare," said Linda Wahl, 60, who lives just a few blocks from the refinery.