While politicians squabble over money for Harvey relief and the FEMA budget, the situation in southeast Texas and southern Louisiana remains dire. This is especially the case for the many chemical plants and oil and gas facilities that dominate the massive industrial center east of Houston. Many were damaged or completely flooded during Hurricane Harvey’s days-long onslaught, including the Arkema Group’s chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. Arkema issued warnings about an impending explosion late Wednesday, prompting city officials to evacuate everyone in a 1.5-mile radius around the facility.
Early Thursday morning, the company’s warning proved true as two explosions and a black plume of smoke were reported by authorities on the scene. A reporter from a Florida NBC affiliate on the scene tweeted she “saw plume of smoke over [the] flooded chemical plant,” adding that firefighters on the scene were evacuating everyone from the area immediately.
As Arkema explained in a press release, “Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, as agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out. We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains.” Despite “[following] its hurricane preparation plan in advance of the recent hurricane” and implementing “redundant contingency plans,” the company noted, the “unprecedented flooding” rendered their preparations null and cut power to refrigeration units needed to store certain chemicals at a lower temperature.
The National Weather Service issued a wind warning a few hours later, informing everyone they should “[r]emain well clear of the area and follow directions of local officials” since light four to nine mph wind gusts could push the explosions’ remnants eastward.
For despite the promise of additional blasts, the chemicals released by Thursday morning’s two explosions are considered hazardous. According to local CBS affiliate KHOU, one deputy with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office was “taken to hospital after inhaling fumes from [Arkema] plant.” Nine other officials on the scene “drove themselves to [the] hospital as [a] precaution.” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez subsequently tweeted there had been “some type of release” at the plant, but didn’t offer any details regarding what the contents of said “release” might be.