Fire breaks out at chemical plant hit by Harvey flood waters

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UPDATE:

10:00 A.M. — A fire broke out at an Arkema chemical plant in Crosby that lost power early Thursday after Harvey engulfed the area in extensive floods, police said. The plant’s operator had earlier said the facility was rocked by two explosions, but police later described the incident as a “series of pops.”

Arkema Inc. said in a statement on its website that the Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the plant at about 2 a.m.

At a news conference, Assistant Harris County Fire Chief Bob Royall said different grades of organic peroxides in a semi-trailer caught fire not long after midnight. Royall said the fire emitted a 30- to 40-foot flames and black smoke.

Royall did not refer to any blasts, but Harris County Fire Marshal spokeswoman Rachel Moreno said there had been “small explosions.”

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez says some deputies suffered irritated eyes from the smoke but insisted it wasn’t dangerous.

“It is not anything toxic,” Gonzalez said. “It is not anything that we feel is a danger to the community at all.”

At a separate news conference in Washington, D.C., FEMA administrator Brock Long told reporters that “by all means, the plume is incredibly dangerous.”

Gonzalez said the fire would burn itself out. Royall said the fire service was not monitoring the fire – “that’s industry’s responsibility” – and that the company hired a contractor to do aerial monitoring of the smoke to see which direction it was going.

Arkema manufactures organic peroxides, a family of compounds used for making a variety of products including pharmaceuticals and construction materials.


(ORIGINAL STORY)

CROSBY, TEXAS (CBS) — Two explosions have been reported at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, 25 miles northeasteast of Houston, CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV said early Thursday.

The Harris County Emergency Operations Center notified the company around 2 a.m. of explosions at the site and black smoke coming from the area.

One deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes and nine others drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office reported in a tweet.

Arkema officials had previously said they believed that sometime within the next several days, chemicals at the plant would degrade, explode and catch fire due to Harvey flooding-related power outages.

“Right now, we have an unprecedented 6 feet of water at the plant,” a company  statement said Wednesday. “We have lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, we have lost critical refrigeration of the materials on site that could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire. The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it. We have evacuated our personnel for their own safety.”

A mandatory evacuation was also in effect for the sparsely-populated area in a mile-and-a-half radius of the facility.

Arkema makes organic peroxides, which are used in making items ranging from medications to construction materials.

More explosions could occur because the organic peroxide at risk is stored in multiple locations at the site.

“Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, as agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out,” according to a statement from the company.

According to Arkema, the fires would resemble a large gasoline fire. They would be “explosive and intense” and smoke would be released into the atmosphere and dissipate.

The plant was only accessible by boat Thursday. Arkema officials said they don’t expect to be able to get to it until floodwaters around Crosby crest in five-to-seven days.

Fifty-seven people work at the facility.

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