NEWS

Chemical Plant Near Houston, Flooded By Harvey, Explodes

Arkema, Inc. warned that more explosions may occur.

08/31/2017 07:43 EDT | Updated 08/31/2017 07:47 EDT

Multiple explosions occurred at a flooded chemical plant near Houston early Thursday, giving off black smoke and sending a sheriff's deputy to the hospital.

The Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported the incidents at Arkema Inc's Crosby, Texas, factory around 2 a.m., the company said in a statement. The company warned that more explosions may occur.

"We want local residents to be aware that the product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains," Arkema said in a statement.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office said that a deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the plant and that nine others also voluntarily went to the hospital as precaution. Arkema told the Sheriff's Office that it doesn't believe the smoke contained any toxic chemicals.

Fire officials also confirmed the incident. The National Weather Service warned residents to avoid the area, especially as the wind begins to blow east.

Arkema North America on Wednesday had warned that a fire or explosion in the next few days at a flooded chemical plant on the outskirts of Houston was virtually inevitable,

The factory lost power early Sunday, which it needs to refrigerate volatile chemicals. Those chemicals ignite if they get too warm, the company's CEO, Richard Rowe, said.

"Materials could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire," Rowe said. "The high water that exists on site, and the lack of power, leave us with no way to prevent it."

"We're really blocked from taking meaningful action," he added.

The company powered its coolers with backup generators at first, but they were overwhelmed by water and have failed, leaving the chemicals to warm.

Residents living within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant were evacuated Tuesday, along with a skeleton crew of Arkema workers who had stayed behind during the storm in case of an emergency.

Arkema manufactures organic peroxides at the Crosby plant. According to a safe storage manual by AkzoNobel, a rival chemical manufacturer, that class of chemicals is considered "highly combustible." At high ambient temperatures, "a violent combustion or thermal explosion" is possible, the manual says.

Arkema is among dozens of chemical plants and refineries in the Houston area, many of which have sustained damage in this week's flooding, causing harm to residents' health and the environment.

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