Natural Gas Explosion

Five people are injured following a large explosion and fire at a natural gas processing plant near the Washington-Oregon border

"I heard it, I felt it, I was sitting in my recliner and it felt like a sonic boom from a jet going over," said Jerrie Thomas who lives right across the street from the plant. "I mean the whole trailer rattled, my recliner bounced up and I thought, 'Wow, what in the world was that?'"

What Thomas felt this morning was a natural gas explosion at the Williams Northwest Pipeline plant in the town of Plymouth, along the Columbia River.

"I saw the black smoke," said Thomas.

Hundreds of people evacuated as flames and a mushroom-shaped cloud of black smoke reached high into the air.

One of two liquefied natural gas storage tanks may have been punctured causing the tank to leak natural gas and evaporate into the air.

Officials say the windy conditions are actually helpful right now.

"The weather is very much in our favor," said Capt. Jeff Ripley of Benton County Fire District #1. "The breeze that you're feeling is out of the northeast, it will continue to flow this direction pretty much for the rest of the day which puts the direction of any kind of vaporization away from the population area and just basically dissipates as it goes down stream."

Each of these tanks can hold 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas and officials believe the tank was about 1/3 of the way full this morning.

A robot from the Washington State Patrol Bomb Squad and a helicopter were brought down to assist with video capability and hazardous material personnel are now on site at the plant assessing the damages.    

A spokesperson from Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston says the four plant employees treated there had injuries that did not appear to be life-threatening and were released.

There is no word yet on the status of the employee at the burn unit in Portland.

Local people say thankfully others were not hurt.

"Things can be replaced, people can't," said Gabe Aldrich, who is visiting a friend who lives near the plant. "It's good we were able to get people out safely."

Officials say it is too early to determine what caused the explosion.

They will continue to monitor the tank's status before clearing the area and telling people it's safe to go back to their homes.