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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 06:56 GMT
Fatal blast investigations begin
Port Talbot plant on Friday morning
Searches continue at the plant for one missing worker
Investigations have begun into explosions of fire at a south Wales steelworks which left one worker dead, one missing and 13 others injured - seven of them critically.

Firefighters are continuing the search for the missing worker whose equipment and helmet have been found at the scene of the blast at the Corus plant in Port Talbot.

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A spokesman for Morriston Hospital - which houses one of the UK's leading burns units - said seven of the workers were in a critical condition and would undergo surgery for extensive burns and lung injuries.

Emergency services declared the scene a major incident after three blasts at the number five furnance rocked the plant shortly after 1700GMT on Thursday.

The explosions erupted at the huge plant, splitting the blast furnance, causing a "serious escape" of molten iron at which point workers were thrown and badly injured by huge flames.

Fire at Port Talbot steelworks
Witnesses said flames 'shot into the air'

It is still unclear what caused this to happen.

David Thomas of Morriston Hospital said the type of injuries this caused to those working nearby were widespread.

"In this sort of event where you have an explosion there's obviously burns from the flames but patients are often thrown considerable distances and we they've suffered broken bones, dislocated shoulders and injuries to the lungs, affected by the blast and hot gasses," he added.

Meanwhile, Corus chiefs said the site had been made safe and that all shifts in all parts of the site were going ahead as normal.

Firefighters - who struggled to bring under control tonnes of burning molten steel - said they had feared a series of secondary fires would break out.

Port Talbot aerial
The huge explosions rocked the plant

Health and safety investigators and emergency services are also attempting a search of the debris in order to establish the cause of the explosion.

Witnesses reported hearing at least three huge explosions.

"I heard a loud explosion and I could see flames shooting into the sky and I could feel the heat on my face," said one woman.

Of the 14 workers brought from the scene by paramedics, one died, seven are critical - five on life-support machines - with the remainder being treated for less serious injuries.

Fire at Port Talbot steelworks
The plant produces three million tonnes of steel a year

Corus is conducting its own investigation into the incident. Spokesman John Kavanagh denied the furnace had been due to be relined and said it had been operating normally.

But it is believed the furnace was due for a partial refit as part of a multi-million pound refurbishment being carried out of the plant.

Europe Minister Peter Hain, who represents the neighbouring constituency of Neath, described the incident as "catastrophic".

"Many of my constituents work at Margam," he said.

"Our hearts go out to the victim and family. This is the worst such incident for a very long time in the area and I hope everybody will help out in any way they can to comfort people."

Wales's First Minister Rhodri Morgan said he was "horrified" by the news, which he said "serves as a reminder of the dangers faced by the people working in heavy process industries which for a long time have been the backbone of the Welsh economy".

He said his thoughts were with the families and the injured, and praised the emergency services.

Michael Leahy, General Secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, cut short a conference in Australia and is in the process of returning to the UK.

He said the trade union would be staging its own investigation.

In February Corus announced it was axing 3,000 jobs in Wales - around 200 of them in Port Talbot - as it struggled against market difficulties.

The Port Talbot plant produces about three million tonnes of steel a year for the motor and other industries. Its steelmaking tradition goes back to the turn of the last century.

The BBC's Wyre Davis
"Tonnes of molten steel were spread over a wide area"
MP for Aberavon and Port Talbot Hywel Francis
"The town will rally around those affected"
Steel industry analyst Kath Ringwald
"Yesterday Corus share prices had just started to rally"
See also:

09 Nov 01 | Wales
Uncertainty among Corus workers
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