French chemical company confirms explosions at flood-hit Texas plant
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Two explosions were reported on Thursday at the flood-hit plant of French chemical group Arkema SA in Crosby, Texas, and a sheriff’s deputy was taken to hospital after inhaling chemicals, the company said.
Fires and two explosions rocked the chemical plant early Thursday, sending up a plume that federal authorities described as "incredibly dangerous" and adding a potential new hazard to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, now downgraded to a tropical depression.
The blasts at the Arkema Inc. plant, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Houston, also ignited a 30- to 40-foot flame.
The Harris County Sheriff's Office said on its Twitter feed the deputy had been taken to the hospital and nine others drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution.
Fire authorities said the blasts were small and that some deputies suffered irritated eyes from the smoke, but they emphasized that the materials that caught fire shortly after midnight were not toxic.
However, at a news conference in Washington, DC, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, told reporters that the plume was "incredibly dangerous".
An Arkema spokesman told FRANCE 24 that the plant produces peroxides that are used in plastics. The company evacuated the site on Friday.
Given the lack of electricity at the plant, the explosions were expected. “Peroxide does explode when not properly cooled down, and we had to shut down all refrigerators,” the spokesman told FRANCE 24. “We don’t expect the leak to be more toxic than the release of carbon dioxide in the smoke.”
In the largely rural area surrounding the plant, officials said they went door to door to explain the situation and called on residents to evacuate, but leaving was not mandatory.
The company also issued a statement warning that the threat of additional explosions remains.
“Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so,” the statement said.
The blasts happened as floodwaters from days of relentless rain began to recede and the threat of major dangers from the storm shifted to a region near the Texas-Louisiana line.
In Houston, the rescues continued apace. The fire department planned a block-by-block search Thursday of thousands of flooded homes. Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann said rescuers would ensure that no one is left behind in the floodwaters.
Farther east, Beaumont and Port Arthur struggled with rising water after being pounded with what remained of the weakening storm.
Floodwaters also toppled two oil storage tanks in South Texas, spilling almost 30,000 gallons (114,000 liters) of crude. It was not immediately clear whether any of the spilled oil was recovered. More damage to the oil industry infrastructure is expected to emerge as floodwaters recede.
Forecasters downgraded Harvey to a tropical depression late Wednesday from a tropical storm, but it still has lots of rain and potential damage to spread, with 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) forecast from the Louisiana-Texas line into Tennessee and Kentucky through Friday. Some spots may get as much as a foot, raising the risk of more flooding.
For much of the Houston area, forecasters said the rain is pretty much over.
Harvey's five straight days of rain totalled close to 52 inches, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental US.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)