"My biggest concern is that I'm hoping none of our players or students had parents who worked in that plant and were injured. That's my main thing," Benny Saia, the school's athletic director and head football coach, said in an interview later.
More than 300 people were evacuated from the site, but some stayed behind, officials said. Ten workers stayed in an explosive-proof control center as the fire raged, said state police Capt. Doug Cain. The workers performed vital tasks, including shutting valves that rendered the plant safe, he said.
Residents several miles from the plant described feeling the ground shaking.
"It felt like a three-second earthquake. It was a massive explosion," said Brown. Unsure what it was, he drove to a gas station down the street from his house and saw flames shooting up 100 to 200 feet into the air.
Officials at area hospitals said a handful of patients were in critical or serious condition, though most seemed to have minor injuries. The plant makes ethylene and propylene — highly flammable gases that are the basic building blocks in the petrochemical industry.
Early tests did not indicate dangerous levels of any chemicals around the plant after the blast, but Cain said air monitoring continued Thursday afternoon.
Cain said the fire was out, but gas was being flared — burned at the top of high chimneys — in other parts of the plant. "There is still some controlled flaring going on, so people in the area are going to see smoke," he said.
Associated Press reporters Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge and Janet McConnaughey and Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this story.