Blasts rock flooded Houston-area chemical plant, more expected - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Blasts rock flooded Houston-area chemical plant, more expected

Posted: Updated:
(Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP). The Arkema Inc. chemical plant flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP). The Arkema Inc. chemical plant flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017.

CROSBY, Texas (AP) - Fires and two explosions rocked a flooded Houston-area chemical plant early Thursday, sending up a plume that federal authorities described as "incredibly dangerous" and adding a potential new hazard to the aftermath of Harvey.

The blasts at the Arkema Inc. plant, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Houston, also ignited a 30- to 40-foot flame. Local officials insisted that the explosion produced no toxins.

The blasts happened as floodwaters from days of relentless rain began to recede and the threat of major dangers from the storm shifted to a region near the Texas-Louisiana line.

Fire authorities said the blasts were small and that some deputies suffered irritated eyes from the smoke, but they emphasized that the materials that caught fire shortly after midnight were not toxic.

The French operator of the chemical plant says a fire was caused by the degradation of chemicals lacking refrigeration in containers and that up to eight more could burn and explode.

Rich Rennard, an executive with Arkema Inc., said he expects the organic peroxide in up to eight more to degrade, burn and "produce more explosions."

He said refrigerated containers were used to store organic peroxide after the flooding caused the plant's regular power and backup generators to fail. But those refrigerated containers also failed, causing the chemicals to degrade and eventually burn in one of the containers before dawn Thursday.

Rennard says he doesn't know how long it will take for them all to degrade. Assistant Harris County Fire Chief Bob Royall said the initial explosion took place just after midnight.

He says any smoke can irritate the eyes, skin and lungs.

At an earlier news conference, Assistant Harris County Fire Chief Bob Royall said the different grades of organic peroxides in a semi-trailer caught fire not long after midnight. Royall said the fire emitted a 30- to 40-foot (9- to 12-meter) flames and black smoke. Harris County Fire Marshal spokeswoman Rachel Moreno later put the quantity of burning organic peroxide at 2 tons.

Royall did not refer to any blasts, but Moreno said at the news conference that there had been "small explosions."

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez says some deputies suffered irritated eyes from the smoke but insisted it wasn't dangerous.

"It is not anything toxic," Gonzalez said. "It is not anything that we feel is a danger to the community at all."

At a news conference in Washington, D.C., the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, told reporters that the plume was hazardous.

In the largely rural area surrounding the plant, officials said they went door to door to explain the situation and called on residents to evacuate, but leaving was not mandatory.

The plant, in Crosby, lost power after the storm, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as temperatures rise. Arkema shut down the plant before Harvey made landfall.

As the sun rose, an AP photographer at a roadblock about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the scene could see no sign of a blaze in the direction of the plant.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Sign Up for WDRB's Sports Newsletter

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 WDRB. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.