Gramercy, Kaiser slowly recovering from blast

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / September 7, 1999

GRAMERCY – Gramercy and Kaiser are slowly recovering in the wake of the July 5 blast which injured 24 workers. The aluminum plant has beenalmost completely returned to plant officials, while hearings are due to begin Sept. 8 on the exact causes of the explosion.As of latest word, only one employee remains in Baton Rouge, Todd Landry, who sustained chemical burns over most of his body. However, accordingto a Kaiser spokesman, he is expected to be released soon from the hospital.

Because of the blast, Kaiser here slashed half of its hourly workforce, made up of replacement workers called in response to the strike, which began Sept. 30, 1998. In addition, a Jamaican mine which suppliesaluminum ore to the Gramercy facility cut its mining activity and workforce by two-thirds.

More than 1,000 vehicles exposed to bauxite dust and bauxite slurry were washed and more than 100 glass panes, residential and commercial, were replaced in the aftermath of the blast. Further, Kaiser is in the process ofsettling other property claims.

Gramercy Mayor Ronald St. Pierre said his office has been working withKaiser and the insurance claims adjusters, providing space in the town’s emergency operations center where the first claims payments were issued Friday.

“Everything’s working pretty good,” St. Pierre added.Various lawsuits arose from the explosion as well, including one filed seven hours after the pre-dawn blast.

The initial phase of the explosion investigation was handled by the Louisiana State Police, then turned over to the U.S. Mine Safety and HealthAdministration. Since then, all but the immediate vicinity of the blast hasbeen returned to Kaiser for cleanup and reconstruction.

Since the day of the blast, virtually all of the plant’s salaried employees, many hourly employees and various consultants have spent 12- to 18-hour days assisting in the investigation and remediation efforts.

Kaiser spokesman John Jennings said all they have been able to do is provide information to MSHA investigators and “be patient.””We’re basically just trying to get things back in order,” Jennings added.

“Until they’re through, nothing’s going to happen.”Kaiser company officials have stated their intention to rebuild the plant, and hope to have it in operation at a reduced level by mid-2000, with a full production goal of late 2000.

“With the help and support of the plant’s various stakeholders, we intend to remain a part of the Gramercy community,” a Kaiser statement read.

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