West Virginia chemical plant blast kills 1, injures 3

Authorities say an explosion and fire at a West Virginia chemical plant that shook surrounding homes killed one person while injuring three others

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An explosion and fire at a West Virginia chemical plant that shook surrounding homes killed a plant worker and injured three other people.

It happened after 10 p.m. Tuesday at Optima Chemicals Co., a tenant on the Chemours property site in the Kanawha County community of Belle, Chemours said in a statement.

Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper said one person died Wednesday. In a statement, the victim's family identified him as plant worker John Gillenwater of Hurricane.

“The family is devastated over the loss of their husband, father and friend John Gillenwater,” the statement said. "John was beloved by many in his community and his church.

“At this time, the family is dealing with the shock of this tragedy and we ask that you respect their privacy.”

Among the injured, another plant worker was hurt and one person was hit by debris. Officials believe the explosion involved chlorinated dry bleach and methanol, Carper said.

People who lived in the area reported their houses shook. Emergency officials announced a shelter-in-place order for 2 miles (3 kilometers) around the plant and a nearby road was closed before firefighters were able to extinguish the flames and allow people to move around. The order was lifted early Wednesday.

Belle Mayor David Fletcher, who also is a volunteer firefighter, said the blaze was extinguished before midnight. “Right now we feel like everything is in pretty good shape,” he told WCHS-TV.

Still, it was a very hard day, Kanawha County Manager Jennifer Herrald told The Associated Press.

“We lost a law enforcement officer and they laid her to rest, our community was already hurting over that event, and then to end the day with an explosion at a chemical plant when our first responders were already grieving and exhausted from dealing with a funeral — it was a hard situation to go through this evening,” she said.

Chemours formed as a spinoff from DuPont in 2015. Optima Chemical was established in 1991 from the chemical division of AFF. A telephone message left with Douglas, Georgia-based Optima was not immediately returned.

The 723-acre (293-hectare) site is located along the Kanawha River about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of Charleston. The town of Belle has about 1,100 residents.

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This story has been corrected to show the explosion hit Tuesday, not Wednesday.