Third fire victim identified

BELPRE, Ohio May 29 -- Shell Chemical Co. officials Sunday identified a body that has been recovered, and also identified a third man believed to have perished in the explosion and fire at the company's Belpre, Ohio, plant.

Shell Chemical spokesman Dave McKinney said the location and removal of the three corpses has been difficult, and the process was continuing Sunday.


Officials identified Gary Reed, 41, of Williamstown, W.Va., as the third technician missing since the Friday fire and presumed dead.

Ohioans George Nutter, 50, of Coolville, and Michael Harris, of Reedsville, were two other technicians killed in the fire.

McKinney said Nutter's body was recovered Saturday and sent to the Franklin County Coroner's office.

'The bodies are in the process area where major structural damage occurred, making it dangerous to go in quickly,' McKinney said Sunday. 'Our No. 1 priority is getting the bodies out safely.'


McKinney said company officials and officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal and state Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Washington County Sheriff's Department and the county coroner's office have been inspecting the plant and rubble from the fire.

He said the exact cause of the explosion, which occurred Friday morning, has not yet been determined, and that officials expect the inspection process to continue for weeks.

McKinney said early on there were actually fires in two areas of the plant -- one in a thermoplastic processing unit area, and one in a storage area containing five tanks filled with styrene -- and investigators are trying to determine which of the fires started first.

After the fire began, an estimated 1,700 people were evacuated from within a one-mile radius of the plant. Firefighters from about 16 Ohio and West Virginia fire departments battled the blaze for nearly 10 hours.

McKinney said the smoke from the fire had an offensive odor, but that 'materials in the smoke were not harmful to anyone who breathed it.'

He said early EPA testing of the Davis Creek, which runs past the plant and feeds the Ohio river nearby, showed low concentrations of primarily styrene and ethylene dibromide which pose no threat to humans. However, he noted that some fish had died.


Shell has installed booms across the creek to skim, absorb and contain any chemical residue, McKinney said.

He also said Shell has hired a private consultant to test the water, wildlife and any other environmental factors that could have been affected by the fire.

Company officials say they do not have damage estimates yet and are unable to determine when the plant will be able to resume complete operations.

McKinney said that despite the fire, all 500 plant employees are being told to report to work as usual while clean-up and repairs continue.

'It's a good-size plant, with some operations still going,' McKinney said. 'There's also lots of inspection, restoration and repair work to be done.'

The plant produces thermoplastic rubber used for automobile components, adhesives, food packaging, footwear and other products.

McKinney said he and two other Shell officials went door-to-door Sunday, 'calling on neighbors' and supplying claim information. He said the plant had received about 10 minor claims from residents, primarily involving soot on houses and cars.

'Their reaction has been sympathetic, mixed with shock,' said McKinney. 'We did not encounter any anger on anyone's part. This is a small town. The people have a real sense of community spirit, and they want to see the plant reopen.'


Written by K.C. Ottenbacher

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