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Oil refinery explosion kills at least 14

Blast felt several miles from plant in Texas City, Texas

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Desperate rescues are followed by a solemn moment.

A BP spokesman speaks of the refinery explosion.
• Explosions not uncommon in Texas city
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TEXAS CITY, Texas (CNN) -- At least 14 people died and more than 70 others were injured in an explosion that ripped through a BP oil refinery in southeastern Texas on Wednesday, a company spokesman said.

The fire sent huge plumes of smoke high into the air, and the blaze took nearly two hours to extinguish, Bill Stephen said.

"We believe it's 14 people, but we will wait for official confirmation from the medical examiner," he told reporters.

Stephen added that it was possible the number of dead could rise as emergency crews were continuing to search through the site.

"We don't want to let anyone be overlooked," Stephen said. "We want to account for absolutely everyone."

The explosion happened in the isomerization unit, where the octane of gasoline is raised. The refinery is spread across 1,500 acres.

It was not immediately clear how many of the 1,800 employees were at the refinery in Texas City, 40 miles southeast of Houston, when the explosion happened at 1:30 p.m. (2.30 p.m. ET).

Stephen said he hoped to know how many people were on the site by late Thursday morning.

BP site director Don Parus said: "Our primary focus is really on the family and the people that were injured."

For a short period, as a precautionary measure, Texas City residents were ordered to stay inside, "but that was quickly pulled," Stephen said.

A spokeswoman said terrorism was not suspected in the blast, which could be felt miles away.

"It shook our building," said Mary Bonnett, a worker at Glass and Glazing Inc., less than a mile away. "It shook the whole city."

A team of seven investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) was expected to arrive at the site late Thursday morning.

The refinery -- the country's third-largest -- produced 460,000 barrels of gasoline per day, 3 percent of the U.S. supply, said John Bresland, a CSB board member.

The CSB is an independent federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents. The board does not issue citations or fines, but does make safety recommendations.

BP said the fire at the sprawling 1,200-acre facility was isolated to an isomerization unit, used to upgrade gasoline quality.

It said the rest of the refinery continued to operate normally although nearby secondary refining units were already idle for scheduled maintenance.

After the explosion, U.S. gasoline prices reached an all-time high, according to Reuters, which reported that the price of gasoline on the New York Mercantile Exchange hit $1.6080 per gallon.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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