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Anger at BP Adds to Daughter's Grief; After Losing Both Parents, She Says the Oil Giant Ignored Some Safety Problems

October 20, 2006, 5:51 pm

Of all those who lost loved ones in the BP Texas City refinery explosion March 23, Eva Rowe may have lost the most.

Her parents, James and Linda Rowe, were killed in the accident, which destroyed the construction trailer in which they were working.

Now Rowe, 21, who didn't go a day without speaking to them, continues to try to accept their deaths.

Indeed, she says, she lost more than her parents.

"My parents were my best friends," she said, crying. "And now I don't have them anymore ... I'm just trying to live my life every day knowing they will never be there."

In the past eight months, Rowe's grief has given way to disgust for a company that she says turned a blind eye to years of safety problems at the refinery.

"BP ruined my life," she said. "I believe that in trying to save money, they murdered my parents, and it makes me mad. For that reason, my parents are dead."

The explosion happened as workers restarting the refinery's isomerization unit, which makes products to boost the octane of gasoline, accidentally overfilled a tower with highly flammable hydrocarbons.

The liquid then spilled into a tank called a blowdown drum, which quickly overflowed and sent the materials rushing up a stack that vented to the atmosphere.

Liquid and vapors spewed out of the stack like a geyser and began collecting on the busy plant grounds, where they were ignited by unsuspecting workers. A series of blasts was heard and felt more than five miles away.

Fifteen people, including the Rowes, were killed. BP has said at least 170 others were injured, although civil suits filed since the accident far outnumber that estimate.

Eva Rowe was on her way to Texas City from her family's home near Hornbeck, La., to visit her parents when she stopped at a convenience store and heard the news of the blast on the radio.

Her parents had set up a temporary home in Texas City a year earlier to work together at the refinery, and their daughter didn't like to go more than a week without seeing them.

The radio report said the explosion had occurred four hours earlier. Since her parents hadn't called to say they were all right, Eva Rowe said, she knew right away that they were gone.

It wasn't until early the next morning that she got a call from her parents' employer, the contracting firm JE Merit, that they very likely had been killed.

The next day was spent filling out paperwork and waiting for the medical examiner to confirm their identities.

The bodies were so unrecognizable that Eva Rowe had to supply other information, such as surgical histories, for the medical examiner to make his identifications.

As she waited for other relatives to arrive, she planned her parents' funerals.

In the time that's passed since she buried her 48-year-old father and 47-year-old mother, Eva Rowe has learned a lot about the accident that killed them. She's learned that key equipment that may have alerted the operators that they were overfilling the tower was not working.

She's learned that had the vent stack been equipped with a flare, as BP was warned to do by federal regulators 13 years earlier, the blast may not have occurred. She's learned that the trailer, parked just 121 feet away from the isomerization unit, was located closer than what the industry typically considered safe and closer than what BP's own policies normally recommended.

And she's learned that federal investigators, concerned about widespread problems in BP's corporate safety culture, have urged the creation of an independent panel to review the company's behavior.

For those reasons, she said, she can't help but feel anger.

"I want the world to hate British Petroleum for what they did," said Rowe, who is the only relative of someone killed in the blast who still has not reached a legal settlement with the oil behemoth.

Still, she said, if there is any good in what happened March 23, it's that her parents, who loved being around each other so much that they wanted to work together, died together.

"They wouldn't have wanted to live without each other," she said.

NOTES: anne.belli@chron.com LOAD-DATE: November 27, 2005

Copyright 2005 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company All Rights Reserved The Houston Chronicle

November 27, 2005 Sunday 4 STAR EDITION

 

 
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