Investigation underway into Chevron's deadly fire in Pascagoula

(Photo source: Matt Defelice)
(Photo source: Matt Defelice)

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - What caused a deadly fire at Chevron Refinery in Pascagoula is still a mystery. State, local and federal investigators were at the refinery all day Friday searching for clues in this accident. The person killed was 46-year-old Tonya Graddy of Semmes, Alabama. Chevron workers and community members are in shock.

"A big and black cloud of smoke balling up like an atomic bomb explosion," Kevin Barber said.

Around 2 a.m. something went wrong at one of Chevron's processing units; a furnace fire sparked an inferno. Kevin Barber works a few miles away from the refinery.

"Over that way I saw two big clouds of smoke. Chevron was on fire," said Barber.

Tommy Hicks read about the blaze on Facebook and began to panic because his brother works at the refinery.

"I was trying to make sure my brother was okay.  It is a rough life to make," said Hicks.

Hicks got the news he hoped to hear.

"He is good and safe," said Hicks.

But an Alabama woman who worked at Chevron for five years did not make it. Tonya Graddy, known to many as Toni, was killed in the blast.

"Right now, the most important thing is to address the needs of her family," General Manager Tom Kovar said.

"It is, of course, a tragic morning. This refinery is a big refinery. We have over 1,500 employees and it may sound like a lot of people, but it is a family," Kovar said.

The investigation with state, local, and federal agencies is now underway at the refinery to find the cause of the deadly fire.

"What we don't want to do is feed and foster a lot of speculation as to the root cause and causes of this. We have to have this investigation team, which will be a dedicated effort. We will do that essentially around the clock until we have a clear picture of what happened," said Kovar.

This isn't the first terrifying explosion for the Pascagoula refinery.  In August of 2007, a fire ignited in one of the two crude processing units, which Chevron used to process 330,000 barrels of crude oil each day. In 2003, a Chevron worker was killed on the job when he fell from scaffolding.

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