One dead, 17 injured in IP explosion|[05/04/08]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 4, 2008

One person is dead and 17 injured following an explosion Saturday at International Paper’s Vicksburg Mill.

Marcus Christopher Broome, 28, a contract worker, was pronounced dead at the scene, said Warren County Coroner Doug Huskey.

“I’m just in total shock,” said Broome’s mother, Mary Broome, who lives in Vicksburg. “He was such a good kid and such a good person.”

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Broome, the father of twin, 4-year-old girls, Madison and Olivia, was a union industrial insulator hired to assist the mill in restarting operations after its annual shutdown for maintenance and repairs. He was killed when one of the mill’s two recovery boilers exploded about 3:05 p.m.

Broome’s wife, Brooke, was at Jazz Fest in New Orleans when she heard the news, said Mary Broome. “She’s extremely upset, as you can imagine.”

The 17 injured in the blast, all of whom were taken to River Region Medical Center, were contract workers. Their names were not released Saturday night by IP officials. River Region spokesman Diane Gawronski said most of the injured had been treated and released, and a few were transferred to hospitals in Baton Rouge and Augusta, Ga.

The cause of the explosion nor the extent of the damage was known, company officials said.

“Everything is still under investigation,” said mill manager Tom Macher.

About 400 people, including IP’s 306 regular employees, were at the mill off Mississippi 3 when the boiler exploded, said Macher. “All have been accounted for.”

“To my knowledge, this (blast) is the first we’ve had in our 40 years,” he added.

John Adams, the mill’s environmental health and safety manager, said, “Our prayers are going out to the families of all employees. Safety is our primary focus at the Vicksburg Mill, and we are all saddened and regret the unfortunate circumstances associated with this incident.”

The Warren County Sheriff’s Department and Vicksburg and Warren County fire units were on site Saturday afternoon, while OSHA representatives arrived later to begin a safety investigation. Operations at the mill were on hold, for the most part, until inspections are completed, said IP managers.

The recovery boiler that exploded ran on natural gas, Macher said. Such boilers are used in pulp and paper mills to produce steam and electrical power.

Residents around the plant, Macher said, shouldn’t be worried about hazardous materials.

International Paper has manufacturing operations in North America, Europe, Latin America, Russia, Asia and North Africa. The company has about 51,500 employees, 33,100 in the United States.

The IP explosion comes about two weeks before the sixth anniversary of a deadly blast at the Rouse Polymerics plant on U.S. 61 South. Five people were killed, and seven injured.