Multiple explosions rocked a chemical plant after Harvey floods and more are likely - here's why
- The Arkema chemical plant near Houston, Texas, exploded after it was flooded by Tropical Storm Harvey and its compounds were left un-refrigerated.
- 15 police officers were taken to the hospital for inhaling fumes and a 1.5-mile evacuation perimeter is in place.
- Officials plan to allow the fire to burn out, so there is a risk of further blasts.
Because the chemicals remain un-refrigerated, authorities warned that further blasts were likely.Other chemical plants, including multiple oil refineries, have also faced chemical leaks in Harvey's wake. According to filings reported with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, more than two million pounds of hazardous chemicals have been released into the air.
Smoke streaming from the facility irritated the eyes and throats of more than a dozen law enforcement officers near the scene, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told NBC.
"It's basically like standing over a barbecue pit or something like that, where you get smoke in your eyes," he said.The National Weather Service Houston tweeted this warning:
This was what the plant looked like before the fire:
The Harris County Sheriff's Office's tweeted that 15 police officers were taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the chemical plant. Thirteen were released, while another two are still being assessed.KPRC 2 Houston reported that some of the officers were complaining of "headaches, dizziness" after the explosions. But Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters that the fumes were not toxic and were similar to "standing over a burning campfire."
The fire service downplayed the size of the explosions. Bob Royall, assistant chief of the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office, used the term "container ruptures" when addressing reporters on Thursday. "I don't want the public thinking these are massive explosions," he said, in a press update that was streamed on Periscope.Video from local TV station KHOU showed an eerie glow from the fire. The media is being kept back 1.5 miles from the scene:
Arkema warned about the risk of further explosions."We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains," the company said. "Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so."Earlier on Thursday morning, an Arkema spokeswoman said the fire will "resemble a gasoline fire" and will be "explosive and intense in nature." The spokeswoman agreed with local officials that the "best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out."
The news has wiped roughly $92 to $118 million from Arkema's market value. Shares listed on Euronext are down 2.1% on Thursday afternoon.
The plant is not located in a heavily populated area.
It looks like one of hundreds of tank farms that dot the Texas landscape.