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Society

West Virginia Chemical Plant Blast Kills 1, Injures 3

December 9, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An explosion and fire at a West Virginia chemical plant that shook surrounding homes killed one person while injuring three others, authorities said Wednesday.

It happened after 10 p.m. Tuesday on the Chemours property site in the Kanawha County community of Belle, the county commission said in a statement.

The injured people included two workers and one person hit by debris. Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper said one person later died. No additional information about the victim was immediately released.

Officials believe the explosion involved chlorinated dry bleach and methanol, Carper said.

The incident occurred at Optima Chemicals Co., a tenant on the Chemours site, Chemours said Wednesday in a statement. A telephone message left with Douglas, Georgia-based Optima was not immediately returned.

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.

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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