Coast Guard suspends search for missing worker after explosion

Authorities identified the missing worker as 44-year-old Timothy Morrison, of Katy, Texas. This photo shows Morrison with his wife and kids. 

KHOU-TV / Morrison family

KENNER, La. -- The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended their search for a Texas man who disappeared when an oil and gas platform exploded on a lake near New Orleans. 

Authorities identified 44-year-old Timothy Morrison, of Katy, Texas, as the missing man. He was a subcontractor working on the structure. 

"The decision to suspend a search is never an easy one," said Cmdr. Zac Ford. "We send our thoughts and prayers to the Morrison family and all those affected by this incident."   

CBS News affiliate KHOU-TV reports Morrison's family released a written statement on Monday, which reads in part: "We are very grateful for the efforts of law enforcement and for your well wishes and prayers. We request privacy during this difficult time." 

The Clovelly Oil Co. platform exploded while maintenance was being done to the structure Sunday night, sending a fireball high into the night sky. The platform is located on Lake Pontchartrain, which is north of the suburban city of Kenner in Jefferson Parish. 

Seven people were rushed to hospitals for treatment of injuries sustained in the blast. Three of the victims were listed in critical condition. 

According to the oil company, three of the injured workers are company employees. Five of the victims, including Morrison, are contract workers. 

Five of the injured were hospitalized with "blast-type injuries and burns," said Mike Guillot, director of East Jefferson Emergency Medical Services. Two of the three people in critical condition were in a burn unit, Guilot said.   

The Coast Guard reported that a fire aboard the platform was out by midday and that aerial surveys showed no signs of pollution in the water or onshore. 

The Kenner government Facebook page said authorities on the scene reported that cleaning chemicals had ignited on the structure, but the company said the cause of the blast was unknown.  

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Flames are seen on oil rig on Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana following explosion on October 15, 2017

Erik Hanson / WWL-TV

High winds made boarding the damaged structure difficult. 

Residents along the shores of the lake said their homes shook about 7:15 p.m. Some reported that the air smelled of burning rubber. 

"My house actually shook," Andrew Love, 32, told NOLA.com/The Times Picayune . "At first I thought it was a sonic boom or something, I had no idea what was happening."

There were no reports of structural damage to any homes.

A statement from Clovelly Oil said three oil wells near the platform were shut in at the time of the explosion and its one gas well was flowing, but was successfully shut-in shortly after the explosion. Clovelly does not know if any oil was released into the lake.

The platform is a storage and accumulation point for oil and gas from a number of wells, company spokesman Tim O'Leary said.

"It's basically an underwater storage tank. It takes oil and gas" from wells, he said. Once the tank is filled, the oil or gas is pumped into a barge and moved.

He said the four wells that feed the platform were drilled in the 1970s and are all in the lake, a brackish tidal basin that is fed both by the Gulf of Mexico and by fresh water from rivers and streams in 16 Louisiana parishes and four Mississippi counties.

Its water covers 630 square miles but it's generally only about 10 to 15 feet deep. It's 40 miles long and 25 miles wide.

The U.S. Geological Service describes it as one of America's largest estuaries and the waters support oysters, crabs and saltwater fish. There is no active drilling on the lake, according to Jean Kelly of the state environmental department. 

Authorities noted that the parish drinking water is safe because it is pulled from the Mississippi River.