Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Blasts rock Texas chemical plant as Harvey danger moves east

Published:Thursday | August 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM
People evacuate a neighborhood inundated after water was released from nearby Addicks Reservoir when it reached capacity due to Tropical Storm Harvey on Wednesday, in Houston. (AP)


Fires and two explosions rocked a flooded Houston area chemical plant early yesterday, 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 kilometres) northeast of Houston, also ignited a 30- to 40-foot flame. The French operator of the plant said up to eight more chemical containers could burn and explode.

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 emphasised that the materials that caught fire shortly after midnight were not toxic.

Even so, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality urged people in the area to stay indoors with their windows closed and air conditioners running, and to restrict physical activity. Particles from smoke and chemicals can affect people with heart and lung problems.

At a news conference in Washington, DC, 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.