Blasts rock Texas chemical plant as Harvey danger moves east
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 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 emphasized 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, 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 three kilometres from the scene could see no sign of a blaze in the direction of the plant.
In Houston, the rescues continued apace. The fire department began a block-by-block search Thursday of thousands of flooded homes to look for anyone left behind in the floodwaters, a process that was expected to take one to two weeks, Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann said.
The latest surveys indicate that the storm and floodwaters have caused major damage to more than 37,000 homes and destroyed nearly 7,000, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported.
Farther east, Beaumont and Port Arthur struggled with rising water after being pounded with what remained of the weakening storm.
The confirmed death toll climbed to at least 31, including six family members — four of them children — whose bodies were pulled Wednesday from a van that had been swept off a Houston bridge into a bayou.
Beaumont and Port Arthur worked to evacuate residents. Port Arthur found itself increasingly isolated as floodwaters swamped most major roads out of the city. More than 500 people — along with dozens of dogs, cats, a lizard and a monkey — took shelter at the Max Bowl bowling alley, general manager Jeff Tolliver said.
“The monkey was a little surprising, but we’re trying to help,” he said.
The Arkema Inc. chemical plant is shown Wednesday in Crosby, Texas. The plant about 40 kilometres northeast of Houston lost power and its backup generators amid Tropical Storm Harvey’s days-long deluge, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals...