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‘Two explosions’ at hurricane Harvey hit Texas chemical plant

LiveMint logoLiveMint 31-08-2017 AFP

Houston: Local emergency officials on Thursday reported two explosions at a flooded chemical plant in the Texas town of Crosby, its operators Arkema Inc said.

“At approximately 2 am CDT (0700 GMT), we were notified by the Harris County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of two explosions and black smoke coming from the Arkema Inc plant in Crosby, Texas,” the company statement said.

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office in a later tweet confirmed “a series of chemical reactions at the @Arkema_Inc Crosby facility.”

“There has been intermittent smoke, please stay clear of the area.”

As a precautionary measure officials had already ordered the evacuation of an area within 1.5 miles (three kilometers) of the organic peroxides plant, which operators had said was at risk of exploding due to a “critical issue” triggered by monster storm Harvey’s torrential rains.

Harris County sheriff’s office said one deputy had been taken to hospital after inhaling fumes from the plant.

“9 others drove themselves to hospital as precaution,” it said on Twitter.

The facility had been evacuated following a dangerous loss of on-site refrigeration.

In its statement, the company said: “unprecedented flooding overwhelmed our primary power and two sources of emergency backup power.”

The facility manufactures compounds with a broad array of commercial uses including plastics, pharmaceuticals and construction materials but which can combust if not cooled to the proper temperatures.

“Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, as agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out,” Arkema said.

“We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains. Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so.”

Neither Harris County nor Arkema said whether the smoke rising from the chemical plant was toxic to those in the vicinity.

Crosby lies about 25 miles northeast of Houston.

Local resident John Villarreal, 45, told AFP he had left his home — situated about a mile from the facility — to survey flooding in the neighbourhood when he saw “a lot of smoke, and you could see the flames in the smoke.”

“We could hear a few pops,” he said. “I would call it like an aerosol can in a fire type deal.”

Villarreal — who spent five years working at the plant making organic peroxide approximately two decades ago -- said he and many neighbors did not evacuate the area because “there was really no clear direction” from authorities concerning potential risks of staying.

He also said he wanted to stay in order to assist elderly neighbors in the event of emergency.

Villarreal is currently sheltering 10 family members and neighbors whose homes were flooded during Harvey’s historic onslaught that turned rivers into roads throughout Houston and the surrounding region.

“We’re all invested heavily in this area so we’re doing the best we can to not let the worst happen,” Villarreal said.

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