Search for missing oil workers after blast

AN EXPLOSION rocked an offshore oil drilling platform, sending a column of fire into the sky and sparking a frantic search at sea for at least 11 people reported missing.

Most of the 126 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig were believed to have escaped safely after the explosion late on Tuesday night, the US coastguard said. The rig, more than 50 miles south-east of Venice on Louisiana's tip, was still burning yesterday. It was tilting about 70 degrees and threatening to topple into the water.

Helicopters and boats searched the Gulf of Mexico for any sign of the workers who had not been accounted for. "We're hoping everyone's in a life raft," a coastguard spokesman said.

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West Jefferson Hospital in New Orleans said it treated four people, three of whom had been released. The University of South Alabama Medical Centre said it was treating one person in its burn unit and evaluating five others.

Many workers were being brought to land on a work boat expected to arrive last night.

When the explosion happened, the rig was drilling but was not in production, according to Greg Panagos, the spokesman for its owner, Transocean in Houston. The rig was under contract to BP, which said all its personnel were safe, though a spokesman did not know how many had been on the rig.

Mr Panagos said it was still too early to know what caused the explosion.