33 injured from explosion at chemical plant in Louisiana

CHICAGO (AFP) - An explosion at a chemical factory in the southern United States state of Louisiana injured at least 33 people on Thursday, officials said.

There were reports of fatalities within the plant, but they have not yet been confirmed, said Ms Jean Kelly, a spokesman for the state's Department of Environmental Quality.

Huge black plumes of smoke and orange flames could be seen billowing out of the plant in Geismar, a small town north of New Orleans.

Approximately 30 people were transported to area hospitals by ambulance and three others were evacuated with helicopters, Ms Kelly told Agence France-Presse.

People within a 3.2km radius were told to stay inside, close their windows and shut down air conditioning units to protect themselves from the potentially toxic smoke.

"We've completed our first round of monitoring," Ms Kelly said. "We didn't see any spikes of chemicals in the air."

The explosion happened just before 9am (10pm Singapore time) at the Williams Olefin plant, the local government said in a statement on its Facebook page.

"No 'extremely hazardous materials' were involved in this incident up to this point," the Iberville Parish Council said.