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Explosion at Husky refinery

An explosion rocked a refinery in northwestern Wisconsin on Thursday, injuring at least 11 people, forcing the evacuation of homes, schools and a hospital, and sending a plume of noxious smoke billowing into the air.

Authorities said a tank of crude oil or asphalt exploded about 10 a.m. at the Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior, a city of about 27,000 that shares a Lake Superior shipping port with nearby Duluth, Minnesota. That prompted them to order the evacuation of a three-mile (five-kilometre) radius around the refinery, as well as a 10-mile (16 kilometre) corridor south of it where the smoke was heading.

It was unclear how many people were being evacuated. The refinery is in an industrial area, but there's a residential neighbourhood within a mile to the northeast. The corridor downwind to the south of the refinery is sparsely populated.

Hospital officials said only one of the injured was seriously hurt, with what was described as a blast injury. No deaths were reported, and officials said all workers had been accounted for.

Thick, black smoke poured from the refinery hours after the explosion. Refinery manager Kollin Schade said the smoke was from burning asphalt that was so hot that firefighters , unable to attack the fire to try to put it out. Emergency officials later said another tank had caught fire, too, though they didn't specify what was in it.

The fire was put out about 11:20 a.m. but reignited, prompting police to urge residents living within an evacuation area to leave. Police blocked roads into the area around the refinery. Three schools and St. Mary's Hospital in Superior were being evacuated as a precaution.

A contractor who was inside the building told WDIO television that the explosion sounded like "a sonic boom" and that it happened when crews were working on shutting the plant down for repairs.

Kara Tudor, 30, and Julia Johnson, 27, live about two miles from the refinery and were ordered to evacuate. They quickly scooped up their two dogs and three cats, grabbed their toothbrushes and drove to a friend's house in Duluth, where they were watching the news for updates.

Tudor, a scientist at a research company, said residents haven't been told much about the potential danger, what is in the smoke or why it is so black. But she said it's clear people shouldn't be breathing it in and she wonders how it will affect the water and air quality.

Oil smoke can contain a mix of noxious hydrocarbons and other chemicals with potential short- and long-term health effects.

National Weather Service radar showed the smoke plume extending south-southeast, taking it into sparsely populated areas. The weather service said winds were expected to weaken Thursday evening and eventually shift toward Lake Superior. It said the smoke probably would not affect Duluth, a city of about 87,000.



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