The Associated Press

Explosion Rips Through Torrance Refinery, Shakes South Bay

Residents near the oil refinery said the ground shook and ash rained from above after the blast

Hours after an explosion ripped through a Torrance refinery, residents for miles around continue to grapple with ash, a gas odor and concerns over poor air quality while inspectors confirmed that a filtration device was the source of the blast.

A smoke advisory was issued for areas near the ExxonMobil refinery due to Wednesday morning's explosion and fire.

"I have second thoughts about being out here right now," said resident Anthony Scales.

Minor injuries were reported after the explosion ripped apart structures at the oil refinery and shook homes for miles around the blast site in southern Los Angeles County.

Eight workers were decontaminated at the scene. Four were taken to hospitals. Three were treated and released. One person remained hospitalized with a knee injury.

Thick smoke rose from a mangled, multiple-story portion of the Torrance ExxonMobil Refinery, located south of the 405 Freeway, after the 8:50 a.m. blast. The explosion sent ash raining down on vehicles parked near the sprawling 750-acre site and caused what one worker described as intense shaking.

Firefighters found gasoline flowing on the ground as a result of the explosion, Torrance Fire Department Capt. Steve Deuel said.

"You could feel it," said refinery worker Jason Hernandez. "It was like a loud sonic boom. My first reaction was, this doesn't sound good, this doesn't look good. Let's get out of here.

"I just appreciate that I'm here. First thing I thought was to call my wife, my kids, and let them know I'm safe."

Residents reported shaking normally associated with earthquakes throughout the South Bay area. A Redondo Beach resident told NBC4 windows rattled at his house, about five miles from the refinery.

"I was having my cup of coffee and all of the sudden the whole house shook, the windows vibrated," said Torrance resident John White. "I kind of figured we had an earthquake, then I realized, living by the factory for all those years, they had a problem with the factory."

Caltech officials said the explosion created ground shaking that was equivalent to a magnitude-1.7 earthquake. The shaking was felt primarily in the immediate vicinity of the refinery, according to Caltech.

California Occupational Safety and Health officials were at the site investigating. While the unit where the blast occurred was ordered shut down, the rest of the refinery is still in operation.

Several residents noticed what they described as a larger-than-usual flame from the plant's towering flare stack. Flares from the stack, part of a safety relief valve system, are part of normal operations that occasionally produce a rumbling sound, like distant thunder, caused by turbulent mixing of vapors.

Deuel told The Associated Press the flare system was triggered to burn off fuel that could add to the fire. He said the blast happened in a processing facility and the material involved was gasoline.

"Emergency procedures have been activated to address the incident, and employees are working with the appropriate agencies," a statement by the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery said. "Our main concern is for the safety of our employees and our neighbors."


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The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for any areas where residents can see or smell smoke. Torrance officials said there was no chemical release and a citywide shelter-in-place order is not necessary, but those near the site should keep windows closed.

ExxonMobil said in a statement early Wednesday afternoon that "no harmful emissions have been detected."

Torrance school officials confirmed that staff and students sheltered in place due to possible air quality issues. Tammy Khan, of the Torrance Unified School District, said the shetler-in-place order was lifted early Wednesday afternoon.

The refinery, where about 155,000 barrels of crude oil are processed each day, has been part of the South Bay landscape since the 1920s.

Community members who may have been impacted by the explosion can call the ExxonMobil claims hotline at 844-631-2539.

Kim Baldonado, Patrick Healy, Jason Kandel, and Tena Ezzeddine contributed to this report.

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