It was just after sunrise on a cloudy morning. Suddenly, the ground in both Belpre and Parkersburg rumbled, and the skies suddenly were filled with smoke coming from what was then the shell chemical plant.
"My house is approximately three miles from Shell, and I heard a swishing noise," said Belpre Fire Chief Wesley Walker. "And it wasn't a couple of moments before the siren went off, and I knew it was something serious."
Belpre's volunteer fire department responded to the fire call, but Chief Wesley Walker quickly realized more aid was needed.
"We were trained for large disasters, but I don't think people thought we would have one of this magnitude in our area," Walker said.
Although no evacuation was officially ordered, an estimated two to 300 people temporarily left their homes. While it wasn't certain until the fire was out, it was eventually announced that three workers died.
"We have visually seen one person who is dead," said Arnie Ditmar, then manager of the Belpre plant. "And we have to presume that the other two individuals we have not seen or heard from have also died as a result of this accident."
"We expect to either restore it to the same track record it's had for years, said Shell executive Michael Grasley, who visited the plant a day after the explosion. "And we are going to rebuild the plant with all deliberate speed, and move quickly to restore operations."
Indeed, the K-1 unit where the explosion and fire took place was rebuilt, and re-opened within two years.
Kraton polymers took over operation of the plant in 2000. The accident was blamed on an oversupply of the chemical adiene in a reactor.
Several lawsuits were filed from the incident, by families of the victims and people who lived near the plant, most of which were eventually settled.
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