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Brazil's Usiminas halts steel production at Ipatinga after explosion

Sao Paulo — Brazilian steelmaker Usiminas was forced to temporarily halt steel operations Friday at its Ipatinga plant in Minas Gerais state following an explosion at its gasometer, it said.

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A gasometer is a large container where natural gas is stored near the melt shop.

The halt of the blast furnaces was decided "in an emergency and temporary manner," Usiminas said in a filing with the Brazilian securities commission. "The company is still investigating the causes and consequences of this explosion, including ... possible victims."

Besides the Ipatinga complex, the company also has a mill in Cubatao, Sao Paulo state, which had its melt shop shut in November 2015 on poor market conditions, reducing current company crude steel production to zero.

No deaths have been reported and the entire area at risk has been evacuated, the company said in an email.

"[The] gas pipeline was blocked and there is no leakage. Usiminas reiterates that it is monitoring gas in the districts surrounding the plant and, so far, no abnormalities have been recorded," it added.

The steelmaker had just recently reactivated the unit's blast furnace No. 1, which was idled since 2015, 34 months. The decision to reactivate the furnace was made in May 2017, based on projections of a gradual recovery of Brazilian steel consumption, mainly from the automotive sector. About Real 80 million ($23.5 million) was allocated to the furnace repairs, which took nine months.

A scheduled maintenance that took 14 days also recently was carried out at blast furnace No. 3.

Ipatinga has a production capacity of 5 million mt/year of crude steel from the three blast furnaces.

--Jose Guerra, jose.guerra@spglobal.com

--Adriana Carvalho, adriana.carvalho@spglobal.com

--Edited by Valarie Jackson, valarie.jackson@spglobal.com