A chain of three unexpected explosions at the JNS Biofuel biodiesel plant on Mississippi Highway 15 north of New Albany this week sent flames and dark, billowing smoke soaring aloft, and out of an abundance of caution it led to the evacuation of some nearby houses, closure of a portion of highway and the release of students from school.
Highway 15 is expected to reopen today, the Mississippi Department of Transportation announced late Thursday afternoon.
The relatively small plant, which converted chicken fat and methanol into diesel fuel, stored its product in tanks on site. The explosion of a tank in the early hours of Wednesday was felt as far away as Lee County, and the smoke, described as a mushroom cloud by an eyewitness, eventually dispersed across a wide area of Northeast Mississippi like a discolored haze.
No one has been injured by the first or the subsequent two other explosions, but the appropriate state and federal agencies are investigating and assessing what happened. Finding out what happened is crucial in preventing other explosions at similar installations.
The Red Cross, as our region has come to expect, within hours had set up an emergency center, and has been feeding the people on the scene who are with investigative and law enforcement agencies. Some people chose not to evacuate their homes.
Aerial surveillance was followed by on-site inspection even as the fire continued to burn in a somewhat reduced intensity.
The site team will see what’s still burning at the spot where JNS Biofuel stood before a fire led to a giant explosion around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Explosions of great magnitude are rare in Northeast Mississippi, and the north Union County incident this week did not result in injuries or deaths.
The precautions taken were appropriate because no one expected the blast in the first place, and no one knew for certain that others would follow.
Growth in the biofuel industry in the region makes information developed from the post-explosion investigation essential; as public record, all in the interest of workplace safety.