Explosions and fumes emanating from a flood-crippled chemical plant in southeast Texas sent a deputy sheriff to the hospital and caused local officials to brace for a fire and more blasts at the facility. News sources report that the flooding caused by Harvey knocked out power to the plant, disabling its refrigeration system and allowing the volatile chemicals it stored to heat up and explode.
More explosions are expected
The Harris County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) notified Arkema, Inc. at 2 a.m. this morning of two explosions and black smoke coming from its facility in Crosby, which is about 25 miles north of Houston. More explosions are expected, because the organic peroxides that are the source of the blasts are stored in multiple locations at the site. Organic peroxides are extremely flammable. The company and local officials have opted to let fires from the chemicals burn themselves out.
Arkema said on its website that authorities had already ordered the evacuation of residents from a 1.5 mile zone around the plant, although it wasn’t clear if everyone had done so. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez advised anyone who remained to close their windows and shelter in place.
A sheriff’s deputy who was dispatched prevent people from getting too close to the plant developed respiratory problems after inhaling fumes and was taken to the hospital, according to a tweet by the sheriff’s office.
Flooding overwhelmed power sources
The company said in a statement that it had followed its hurricane preparation plan and had redundant contingency plans in place. “However, unprecedented flooding overwhelmed our primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, we lost critical refrigeration of the products on site.”
Organic peroxides are a family of compounds that are used in a wide range of applications, such as making pharmaceuticals and construction materials.
The Federal Aviation Administration barred flights over the area. Residents are being asked to not return to the area until the situation is resolved.
An Arkema Group company spokesman urged residents to continue avoiding the area. "It's not over. This is very serious and we know that," said Richard Rennard at a news conference.
More than a dozen law enforcement officers on scene reported irritation in their eyes and throats from the smoke emanating from the facility. Some went to the hospital to be evaluated.