Tehran, May 25 : An explosion rocked Iran's largest refinery on Tuesday around the time of a visit to the plant by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with some Iranian media reports saying at least two people were killed. The blast took place due to a gas leak.
The blast occurred just before Ahmadinejad was to inaugurate and expansion project at the 400-thousand barrel per day refinery in the southwestern city of Abadan, and injured 20 people, the semi-official Fars news agency said.
The explosion was blamed on a "gas leakage," but no other details were provided. Ahmadinejad himself was not injured.
Conflicting reports over the toll and timing of the blast surfaced but officials at the plant were not reachable for comment.
The semi-official Mehr news agency, said at least two people were killed in the explosion that took place while the president was visiting.
Mehr said Ahmadinejad ordered a special plane to airlift those critically injured to Tehran.
However Abadan governor Hamid Ghanaati later told the official IRNA news agency that only one person died in the explosion.
Meanwhile, state television said the explosion occurred after Ahmadinejad had left the site and the station broadcast a live feed showing the president speaking to officials at a local hall in Abadan.
Broadcaster IRINN showed firefighters working feverishly to put out the huge flames which even burnt out one of the fire trucks.
The extend of the damage was not immediately clear but at one point much of the refinery seemed to be consumed by the flames.
Iran, which is the second largest exporter in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has been struggling to meet local demand for fuel.
Its oil sector is under pressure because of sanctions linked to Tehran's controversial nuclear programme, and Iran has been forced to increasingly rely on local expertise for developing its vast oil and gas resources as well as expanding its refining capacity.
The expansion at the Abadan plant is aimed at increasing capacity by about 30 percent at the century-old plant - the largest of Iran's nine refineries.
Although Iran is the world's fourth largest crude producer, insufficient refining capacity has forced it to impose a fuel rationing system.
Under the plan, each car receives about 15.8 gallons of fuel at 150 cents per gallon. Higher quantities can be bought at about 260 cents per gallon.
Iran, however, has been trying to boost refining capacity to offset the fuel shortage and has said it is approaching self-sufficiency. AP