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Gov. Justice Confirms One Death In Chemours Plant Blast

Aaron Spencer via Twitter
Fire from an explosion at the Chemours Belle chemical plant could be seen blazing in the darkness Tuesday night amid shelter-in-place orders for communities within two miles.
Updated: December 9, 2020 at 1:00 PM EST
Added information about the death of one injured person

One person injured Tuesday in a fiery explosion at the Chemours chemical plant in Belle has died.

The death was confirmed Wednesday afternoon by Gov. Jim Justice in his coronavirus press briefing as officials began the task of sorting out the cause of the incident, which forced a stay-at-home order, closed roads, and shook houses near the blast.

Officials said late Tuesday that least four people had been injured in the explosion.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said at least three people were transported to a local hospital by ambulance. A fourth person, whose car was hit by debris while driving nearby, was able to drive without help to Montgomery General Hospital.

“The explosion was so great that it blew debris clear across the river into Chesapeake and Marmet,” Carper said.

Debris also led to road closures, including U.S. Route 60 East, from the Chelyan Bridge to Campbells Creek.

By midnight, Carper said the fire was active but the situation was “stabilized.” He later told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that chlorinated dry bleach and methanol were involved — the latter of which was likely the accelerant for the fire.

The county lifted a shelter-in-place advisory around 2:30 a.m. As commissioners cautioned residents to stay indoors, emergency management officials , including Kanawha County’s Homeland Security director and various fire chiefs, let the fire “flare out the chemicals.”

"There'll be a thorough investigation by federal and state and local authorities, and eventually the plant will explain what happened," Carper said early Wednesday morning.

The county's advisory lasted more than four hours and spanned communities on both sides of the Kanawha River, including the towns of Belle, Marmet, Chesapeake and Chelyan.

The explosion and chemical problems forced area school closures. Kanawha County Schools officials tweeted that Riverside area schools would be not be open Wednesday. They included Carver Career Center, Riverside High School, Dupon Middle, East Bank Middle, Cedar Grove Middle and Elementary, and all area elementary schools — Belle, Chesapeake, Malden, Marmet, Mary Ingles, Midland Trail, Prat and Sharon Dawes.

Students are expected to log in to Schoology on Wednesday for eLearning.

“No staff should report,” school officials wrote. “There will be no special education services.”

County officials first learned of the explosion around 10 p.m., according to county Commissioner Ben Salango. They immediately activated the county’s Emergency Operation Center, a collaborative effort by EMS and law enforcement agencies to respond to area disasters.

Residents within a two-mile radius were advised late Tuesday to follow a shelter-in-place order issued by Kanawha County Emergency Management.

Chemours issued a statement late Tuesday: "An incident at one of the tenant companies at the Chemours site in Belle, West Virginia has resulted in a fire. Site responders are working to contain the fire. We have no further details at this time.”

Kanawha County dispatchers first received calls about the incident around 9:58 p.m. Images of fire from the explosion lit up the night sky and smoke was seen billowing above the river, according to images posted on Twitter by local residents. Some who lived nearby reported that their houses shook from the blast.

Gov. Jim Justice tweeted late Tuesday that he was being briefed on the situation. "Cathy and I are praying for the safety of all involved," Justice said via Twitter.

The Chemours Belle plant, formerly Dupont, encompasses 723 acres and lies 8 miles east of Charleston. It has manufactured speciality agricultural chemical products since 1926.

Belle Chemical Co. — which operates nearby to the Chemours plant — said early Wednesday morning that all of its employees were accounted for, and that the explosion was not associated with their business.

As a precaution, however, Belle Chemical Co. is closing its operations until an investigation is complete.

Emily Allen works in Charleston covering the state Legislature and public affairs throughout southern West Virginia.

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