2 workers killed, 2 others injured after storage tank explodes at New Mexico oil refinery

By Sue Major Holmes, AP
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2 workers killed in New Mexico oil refinery fire

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Federal and state investigators were probing blackened debris Wednesday at a southeastern New Mexico oil refinery where a storage tank explosion killed two Texas men and critically injured two others.

Authorities say warning sirens sounded just before 1 p.m. Tuesday at Navajo Refinery, which sits at the intersection of U.S. 82 and U.S. 285 in Artesia.

The plant was evacuated, but authorities said there was no need for evacuations of nearby businesses or homes only blocks away.

Police Sgt. Lindell Smith says one body was found on the site, and a second man is missing and presumed dead.

He identifies those men as Natividad Andajo of Odessa, Texas, and Victor Villa of Midland, Texas.

Two other workers were airlifted to a Lubbock, Texas, hospital in critical condition. Their names were not released.

The body found after the blast was sent to the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque for an autopsy and positive identification. Smith said authorities could not say immediately which man’s body was found Tuesday.

All four workers were employed by a contractor at the refinery, Northwest Insulation of Texas, he said.

The accident occurred in an area away from the main plant, and Navajo Refinery was operating normally Wednesday, said Andrew Siegel of the New York public relations firm, Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher, which represents Navajo’s parent company, Holly Corp. of Dallas.

The 24-hour Artesia plant refines oil into diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, and other products, including asphalt.

Artesia police and fire officials said the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration was investigating. A team from the state Environment Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Bureau arrived Tuesday evening to help with the probe, said a department spokeswoman, Marissa Stone Bardino.

The fire occurred away from other tanks, said Artesia Fire Chief J.D. Hummingbird.

“We were lucky the wind was cooperating; it was blowing the smoke away from the refinery and the city. The public was never in danger,” he said.

Firefighters outside the station heard the explosion less than half a mile away, Hummingbird said. He went out and saw thick, black smoke at the same time a 911 call came in.

“We knew we had a problem,” he said.

Navajo Refinery’s own fire brigade fought the blaze, while the Artesia department sent ambulances, Hummingbird said.

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