SEADRIFT, Texas -- A powerful explosion rocked a chemical plant Tuesday, injuring 25 people, twisting pipes, toppling towers and rattling windows up to 50 miles away.
'I was just up looking out the window, and all of a sudden it was just like a nuclear bomb,' nearby resident Shirley Maldonado said after the explosion occurred about 1:18 a.m. at the Union Carbide Seadrift Plant, sparking small fires that were not extinguished until shortly before noon.
Nearby resident John Navarro said he initially believed the explosion was connected to the Persian Gulf War.
'I had woken up and gone to the bathroom, and all of a sudden -- boom! -- that thing went off,' Navarro said. 'I thought maybe some of those bombs from over there (the Persian Gulf) are over here now.'
The explosion occurred in the central portion of the 250-acre facility about 70 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, plant spokesman Mike O'Sullivan said, prompting some of two dozen residents who live within a mile of the plant to evacuate the area.
Calhoun County Emergency Management Office spokeswoman Cissy Bonuz, who said no dangerous chemicals were released into the air and those residents who were told to leave as a precaution returned to their homes by 6 a.m.
The blast blew open doors at a nearby power plant, shook loose store shelves and rattled windows up to 50 miles away. Some of the injured reportedly were driving by the facility at the time of the blast, and were hurt when their vehicle windows blew out.
Most of the injuries were minor, with victims treated at local hospitals and released. Three people -- one listed in serious condition -- still were being treated at hospitals in nearby Victoria.
O'Sullivan said the company could confirm only 20 people injured among its employees and contract workers, although hospitals reported 25 injured in the accident. Memorial Medical Center in Port Lavaca treated 16 people, two were taken to Citizens Memorial Hospital and seven to De Tar Hospital, both in Victoria.
The company sent teams of employees to area homes 'and checked on all the neighbors,' O'Sullivan.
Investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as the Texas Air Control Board and Texas Water Commission were at the plant.
The cause of the blast had not been determined, but it apparently took place in equipment used to make ethylene oxide, said Ed Van Den Ameele, a Union Carbide spokesman at the company's Danbury, Conn., headquarters.
Ethylene oxide is a moderately toxic colorless gas. It is an eye, skin and respiratory irritant.
'Right now we do not know the cause,' said Union Carbide spokesman Aaron Phillips. 'We're going to have to do an investigation to have a definitive answer to that.'
Phillips said officials also have not yet determined the extent of damage to the facility.