For the not too young, the sound of yesterday’s explosion on the compound of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery brought flashbacks of the deadly blast in June 1991.
Hours after firefighters extinguished the blaze at NiQuan Energy’s Gas-to-Liquids plant inside the refinery compound, Marabella residents whose homes border the estate were still panicking.
In Silk Cotton Drive, where only the Guaracara River separates the community from the Guaracara Refining Company Ltd’s compound, Keeshawn Elms crept around his yard, holding his one-month-old daughter. Elms told Guardian Media that the child woke up screaming around 6.30 am after the blast shook his home.
For hours she cried, and he planned to take her to the Marabella Health Centre to see if she suffered any trauma.
“We were seeing about the children, and my Madame was organising when we heard the noise. The whole morning, the child cried. It sounded different, the whole house, the roof shook. Her mother had to comfort her by taking something and covering her ears. We walked her around the yard to cool her down. Then we saw the smoke across there, so we thought there was a fire. We really did not know what was going on,” Elms said.
Up to midday, residents said no officials came to the community to inform them what happened and whether they should evacuate. Chavon Redhead said no one told them that there was a plant operating on the compound. As far as residents knew, Petrotrin shut down the refinery in December 2018. During Petrotrin days, there were safety and communication protocols in case of an emergency. Nothing exists now, residents said.
Redhead said his 92-year-old grandmother began holding her chest after the explosion. Seeing her trauma, he said he was worried about further explosions at the plant.
Across at Sixth Street Extension, Carmen Narine remembers vividly the fear she felt when the Fluidised Catalytic Cracking Unit at the then Trintoc Refinery exploded on June 5, 1991. After living through that frightening ordeal, yesterday’s blast left her shaking.
“I was sleeping this morning, and all of a sudden, between sleep and wake, I heard a loud noise. It was like my whole house was tumbling down. I flew off the bed and said it has to be Petrotrin. I opened the window, but I did not see anything,” Narine said.
After running out of the house, she found her children sitting outside. They thought it was an earthquake and were awaiting the aftershocks. But Narine said that she never heard an earthquake sound like that, although her home rocked. Later on, her cousin told her there was an explosion on the plant.
“This made me remember 1991 when the cat cracker caught on fire. I was strong asleep, and my children jumped on top of me and asked me what was that? I said, ‘the flambeau fell’. I got up stupid.”
She sat under her house with her grandchildren, checking her phone occasionally for reports of casualties. After the 1991 event, she knew lives were always at risk. With no communication from company officials, Narine was worried about whether her family would have to evacuate. She said her husband Tirbenny was an amputee, making it difficult to flee in an emergency.
Personnel on the compounds of the Guaracara Refining Company and Paria Fuel Trading Company evacuated as police, army, and firefighters cordoned off the area between Plaisance Park and the TECU building in Marabella. Motorists had to use the Solomon Hochoy Highway to bypass the area.
NiQuan officials said the hydrocracker at the plant blew, which led to the blast and fire.
However, there were no casualties, and by mid-morning, firefighters contained the fire and the Ministry of National Security said there was no active danger to life or property in the immediate vicinity.
Residents in Marabella, Claxton Bay, Palmiste, Pointe-a-Pierre and Gasparillo reported feeling the shock from the blast, while others living further said they heard it.
A few businesses within the emergency zone, including those at Tropical Plaza, had to shut down and evacuate for several hours. Even the street food vendors lost out on the morning sales.