An explosion and asphalt fire at a Wisconsin oil refinery on Thursday sent huge plumes of smoke into the air that pollution experts said nearly certainly contained large amounts of toxins, posing a serious health risk to those living downwind. All of the refinery's workers were accounted for, Husky said. Superior has about 27,000 residents and shares a Lake Superior shipping port with nearby Duluth, Minnesota.
"The emergency situation at the Superior Refinery is now over, and our focus in the days ahead will turn to the investigation and understanding the root cause of the incident", Husky Energy said in a post on Twitter on Thursday night. The evacuation order remained in effect late on Thursday, the Superior Police Department said on Twitter. After an initial blaze was extinguished, a storage tank was punctured, and a second fire erupted, Husky Energy spokesman Mel Duvall said.
"We have responders on site", he said.
A four-person team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board will investigate the blast. The non-regulatory federal agency investigates serious chemical accidents such as refinery fires.
The explosion occurred in midmorning yesterday and prompted the immediate evacuation of the local residents. Friday classes were canceled in Superior and nearby Maple school districts, also as a precaution, officials said.
An explosion at a Wisconsin oil refinery chased residents from their homes on Thursday, and now, pollution experts say there were probably all kinds of toxins in the smoke that blew downwind.
"You can still smell a real caustic smell in the air", said Sara Haugen, owner of Pudge's bar in Superior, located about 135 miles (220 km) from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The extinguishing of the fire was initially problematic because once the asphalt ignited it produced smoke so thick and hot that the firefighters could not come near enough the fire to start putting it out.
Husky announced the purchase of the refinery from Indianapolis-based Calumet Specialty Products Partners past year for $560 million in cash.
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