CYPREMORT POINT, La. – Searchers found the body of a fourth victim Friday near the site of a natural gas explosion off the Louisiana coast as they braved choppy waters and the danger of a second blast in attempt to locate two people still missing.
The blast occurred when a tugboat pushing two barges hit the pipeline Thursday in West Cote Blanche Bay, about two miles from shore and 100 miles southwest of New Orleans, the Coast Guard said.
Three bodies were found within hours of the accident. The fourth was pulled from the water about two miles from the site Friday morning, Iberia Parish Sheriff Sid Hebert said.
Gas flow was shut off to the pipeline, but Coast Guard Lt. Rick Foster said there was still concern of another explosion if some gas remained in the line. Divers were to examine the site to determine whether a "spud" from one of the barges — a metal extension used to halt the vessel — might have pinched the pipeline, Foster said. The barge was still in place at the site.
Family members of the missing gathered at a marina at Cypremort Point, a community of shoreline residences and fishing camps.
Choppy waters hampered the search, but the water in the area was only about 5 feet or 6 feet deep, and there was some hope that survivors might have reached one of the many offshore oil and gas platforms that dot the horizon, said Maj. Tim Cossey of the St. Mary Parish Sheriff's Office.
"They can survive for a long time out there," Cossey said.
Authorities were alerted to the explosion Thursday by a man on a nearby beach who saw flames shooting about 100 feet into the sky, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Nyx Cangemi.
Coast Guard rescue crews on Thursday found two survivors, one hospitalized with severe burns and the other uninjured, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Veronica Bandrowsky.
Gulfport Energy Corp. said the accident involved two contracted vessels working for the company in a large energy field. The company said all its own employees were accounted for but it was still trying to get information on its contract workers.
"We are deeply concerned for all those involved," Gulfport CEO Jim Palm said in a statement.
Two of the dead were identified Friday morning by the St. Mary Parish Sheriff's Office as Kennith J. Rink, 51, of Berwick, and John J. Mire Jr., 59, of Patterson.