(HOUSTON) — A pair of explosions was heard early Thursday morning and black smoke was seen rising from a chemical plant near Houston compromised by flooding from Hurricane Harvey, officials said.
Arkema Inc., which runs the plant, said in a release that they were notified of the explosions by Harris County Emergency Operations at about 2 a.m. CT. Harris County police said on Twitter that one deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the plant and nine other officers drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution.
The company said it believes the chemical inhaled by the officers is “non-toxic irritant.”
The area around the plant, which produces organic peroxides used in a variety of products, including construction material, had already been evacuated.
Arkema said it was continuing to monitor developments along with local authorities.
Arkema’s CEO said on Wednesday that there was “no way to prevent” a possible explosion at the company’s facility in Crosby, Texas, which has been heavily flooded as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
“We have an unprecedented 6 feet of water at the plant,” Arkema President and CEO Rich Rowe said in comments made Wednesday. “We have lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power.”
“As a result, we have lost critical refrigeration of the materials onsite 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,” he said.
“We have evacuated our personnel for their own safety. The federal, state and local authorities were contacted a few days ago, and we are working very closely with them to manage this matter. They have ordered the surrounding community to be evacuated too.”
Residents within a 1.5-mile radius of the facility, which is about 27 miles east of Houston, have been told to leave, according to the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who represents the district that includes the chemical plant, called the situation “very dangerous.”
“The worst-case scenario is that this chemical plant could explode,” he told ABC News.
The site has experienced torrential rains from Harvey, “receiving approximately 40 inches by Monday afternoon,” the company said in a statement Tuesday evening.
On Tuesday, the company said it didn’t believe there was any “imminent danger” but stressed that “the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is supporting local agencies in dealing with the situation.
“We are aware of the situation and are working with [Texas Commission on Environmental Equality], who is the lead in this situation, to support them and other state and local officials to mitigate risk to human health or the environment,” an EPA spokesperson said in a statement.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board — the federal agency that investigates and helps clean up chemical accidents — also said it was aware of the situation.
“The CSB is aware of the situation through news reports. We don’t have any other information other than what we are gathering from news reports. We are prepared to deploy to any incident that might result from Hurricane Harvey.”
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