A flooded chemical plant near Houston exploded twice early Thursday, sending a plume of smoke into the air and triggering a fire that the firm plans to let “burn itself out.”
The organic peroxides used in the site’s manufacturing process have begun to heat up after the plant lost its primary source of power, then the power from its back-up generators. Without electricity to power refrigeration, the chemicals could degrade, ultimately leading to some type of explosion or fire.
Houston area chemical plant at risk of explosion, nearby residents evacuated:
“The materials could now explode and cause a subsequent, intense fire,” Rich Rowe, Arkema’s president and CEO, said Wednesday. “The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it.”
The facility evacuated all of its employees Tuesday, and approximately 300 people living within 1.5 miles of the plant have been voluntarily evacuated as well. Rowe described this evacuation radius as “conservative,” and said he expects that the effects of a fire or explosion would be contained on the site’s facilities.
He said the company had no way to prevent an explosion because the plant was swamped by about 6 feet (1.83 m) of water due to flooding from Harvey, which came ashore in Texas last week as a powerful Category 4 hurricane.
“Materials could now explode and cause a subsequent and intense fire. The high water that exists on site, and the lack of power, leave us with no way to prevent it,” Rowe said. He said he believed a fire would be “largely sustained on our site but we are trying to be conservative.”