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Death toll rises to 15 in refinery explosion

FBI rules out terrorism at site

TEXAS CITY, Texas -- The death toll in a thunderous explosion at a BP refinery climbed to 15 yesterday as investigators tried to determine the cause of the worst accident in the nation's gas and chemical industry in nearly 15 years.

A worker who was thought to have left the refinery was found dead near the site of the fiery blast, BP spokesman Bill Stephens said.

More than 100 people were injured Wednesday in the explosion, which plant manager Don Parus said happened during maintenance work in an area of the refinery that boosts the octane level of gasoline.

About 1,100 employees and 2,200 contract workers were at the refinery when flames from the blast shot into the sky, forcing schoolchildren to cower under desks and showering the plant grounds with ash and blackened metal. It rattled windows more than 5 miles from the 1,200-acre plant near Houston.

The initial 14 deaths reported were identified as workers for an outside contractor, JE Merit Constructors Inc. It was not immediately known whether the 15th was also a contractor there.

Investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Board were sent to Texas City.

Al Tribble, an FBI spokesman in Houston, said that the FBI ruled out terrorism and that it does not appear there was foul play. Making such determinations have become part of accident investigations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He also dismissed a statement posted on an Islamic website claiming responsibility for the blast.

''It's clear that we have a lot of work to do in the coming days to make sure we understand exactly what happened, and we're going to do that," BP America President Ross Pillari said. ''We are going to put all of our resources into it."

The plant processes 433,000 barrels of crude oil a day, producing 3 percent of the US gasoline supply. Other than the unit affected by the blast, the rest of the refinery was running normally, Stephens said. Sir John Browne, BP chief executive, said the blast would not affect the US gasoline supply.

It was the deadliest accident in the nation's gas and chemical industry since an explosion at an Arco Chemical Co. plant in nearby Channelview killed 17 people in 1990. The BP plant and Texas City, population 40,000, have dealt with two other refinery accidents, last September and March.

Texas City is the site of the worst industrial accident in US history. In 1947, a fire aboard a ship at the Texas City docks triggered a huge explosion that killed 576 people and left fires burning in the city for days.

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