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Threat of explosion at Lyondell results in evacuation

Published: Sunday, May 29, 2011 8:58 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 6:47 a.m. CDT

More than 100 Minooka residents were evacuated from their homes Sunday afternoon when a power outage caused the threat of a tanker explosion at LyondellBasell.

During severe thunderstorms Sunday, lightning hit the portion of the plant that produces electricity and, ultimately, caused the pressure in a tank to increase, causing officials to fear an explosion, said Bob Coleman, chief of the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District. 

"They lost all power affecting the switch that transfers electricity back to ComEd, so the whole plant went down and the compressors wouldn't work to keep the pressure in the tanks at a certain (level)," Chief Coleman said.

At that time, a fire did occur, but the plant fire department got it out. A minor explosion in the furnace area and another fire also broke out during the incident, but they  also handled by the plant's firefighters.

There has not been an evacuation at LyondellBasell since 1989, said Coleman, but in 1989 it was done twice. Surrounding plants were also shut down during Sunday's incident.

The reverse 9-1-1 calling system was utilized to call area residents to evacuate and emergency officials also went to the neighborhoods to encourage people to leave. Residents were evacuated to Minooka Fire Station No. 1, and later moved to the Minooka Bible Church, 412 Wabena St., Minooka.

"We used the reverse 9-1-1, which is a lifesaver for those people," Coleman said.

The community evacuation was lifted at about 7 p.m., when all vehicle, rail and river traffic in the area was allowed to resume normal travel and residents were allowed to return to their homes.

The incident was deemed over by 7:56 p.m., although the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency and local officials continued to monitor the situation.

Coleman did not know as of Sunday evening how many fire departments assisted on the call, but said more than 75 firefighters were on scene, plus 25 to 30 more covered area stations while those departments worked on scene. The Division 19 Task Force was activated, said Coleman, which means equipment and a fire chief were brought in from other stations to cover local stations since all the local equipment was at the plant.

"The main thing is no one got hurt and the plant is back in a safe atmosphere," Coleman said.

A damage amount is not yet available. The plant was not to be in "100 percent" working order Monday, Coleman said

Lightning strikes twice

Morris firefighters were working on a garage fire when the LyondellBasell call came in.

Lightning hit a garage south of town,  Coleman said. The resulting fire spread to the deck and to the siding on the accompanying house. The name of the homeowner was not available, but Coleman said it belonged to a Coal City police officer.

There were no injuries.

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