The Coast Guard suspended its search Monday night for a man missing after an explosion the previous night on an oil and gas platform in Lake Pontchartrain sent seven other men to hospitals.
The missing man was identified as Timothy Morrison, 44, of Katy, Texas.
After searching for hours by sea and air, rescuers suspended the search for Morrison at 7:15 p.m.
“The decision to suspend a search is never an easy one,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Zac Ford. “We send our thoughts and prayers to the Morrison family and all those affected by this incident.”
Update, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017: While on Sunday night officials referred to the energy platfo…
Earlier, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto had insisted that first responders were still in search-and-rescue mode, even as he acknowledged that deputies had boarded the platform Monday morning and were unable to find Morrison, the lone worker still missing after the explosion and fire.
Boats and helicopters had swept 90 square miles of Lake Pontchartrain since Sunday night searching for Morrison, Ford said.
Seven other men were taken to shore by a crew boat and then transported to local hospitals Sunday night. Two — Lawrence Dufrene, 45, of Marrero, and Alvin Kembrel, 55, of Belle Chasse — were taken to the Baton Rouge General's Burn Unit. As of Monday evening, Dufrene was listed in serious condition and Kembrel in fair condition.
James Bordelon, 62, of LaPlace, was taken to University Medical Center and was recuperating following surgery, according to Lopinto. No further information was available on his condition.
Four of the men — Devin Billiot, 27, of Houma; Brent Neil, 52, of Houma; Paul Phister, 52, of Mandeville; and Cody Boudreaux, 23, of Chauvin — were treated and released.
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Lopinto said some areas of the platform's top deck, which is where the fire apparently began, were inaccessible due to the twisted metal wreckage.
Two structures along that top deck — a "slop tank" and the living quarters — were badly damaged by the blast and fire, Lopinto said. A slop tank can contain contaminated drilling and completion fluids, cleaning residue or rainwater, and is typically shipped to shore for treatment and disposal.
Pictures of the deck showed what appeared to be the collapsed roof of the living quarters next to the remains of the slop tank, which had collapsed and fallen over.
Large oil-storage tanks under the deck remained intact, which could explain why the Coast Guard and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation were unable to find any visible oil sheen in the area.
A spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said officials had conducted some air-quality tests in the area around the rig Monday morning and detected no pollutants.
Officials were hopeful that calmer winds Tuesday would allow investigators to get back onto the platform and begin sifting through the wreckage, Lopinto said.
The company that owns the platform and surrounding wells, Clovelly Oil, based in New Orleans, was cooperating with authorities, he said. Another company, Houston-based Hydra Steam Generator, had workers on the platform as well.
Tim O'Leary, a crisis communications consultant hired by Clovelly, said Monday that he could confirm there were eight men on the platform and that maintenance was being performed when the explosion occurred.
The company has a relatively clean safety record with state regulators. DEQ officials cited the company three times in recent years in connection with air-quality violations at wells in Evangeline Parish, according to records obtained by The Advocate. DEQ had issued a Notice of Potential Penalty to the company and settlement discussions were ongoing, a spokesman said.
The platform did not have any active wells, but oil and gas from three nearby oil wells and one nearby natural gas well were piped to the platform and stored until it could be offloaded onto barges, officials said.
The blast was reportedly heard as far away as River Ridge and Destrehan. Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn said city police and public works employees had checked in neighborhoods close to the lake but found no instances of any damage from debris.
Because of a lease-moratorium enacted in the early 1990s, no new leases have been let in Lake Pontchartrain for more than two decades, according to a spokesman for the state's Department of Natural Resources.