A Houston-area chemical plant flooded by Hurricane Harvey caught fire for the second time in two days after the owner, Arkema SA, warned it had no way to stop all the materials from eventually burning.
Flames and black smoke poured from the plant in Crosby, Texas, after the blaze started around 5 p.m. local time, televised images showed. Two more containers of organic peroxides exploded and burned, Bob Royall, assistant chief of emergency operations for the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, told reporters. There are nine tractor-trailer sized containers on the site, the first of which ignited Thursday.
“We are expecting the remaining six containers to become engaged quickly,” Richard Rennard, Arkema’s regional president, told reporters. “We could see all six of these containers engage quickly.”
The plant, located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of downtown Houston in Crosby, Texas, was hit by explosions after high water knocked out power that ran refrigeration needed to keep the volatile chemicals chilled. While early evacuation of the site and surrounding community prevented serious injuries, the company’s U.S. chief, Rich Rowe, said Friday morning that all 500,000 pounds of the peroxides stored on the site would be allowed to burn.
“In the next day or two, we would highly suspect that some of these materials will catch fire,” Daryl Roberts, Arkema’s vice president for manufacturing, engineering and regulatory services in the U.S., told reporters during a conference call before the second blaze. “I can’t tell you if that is next hour or if that is tomorrow, but we certainly should be on high alert.”
Any further fires are expected to be contained on the site, Roberts said.
Authorities have established a 1.5-mile radius around the plant and blocked access. The Environmental Protection Agency said it was flying a surveillance aircraft to monitor for any airborne toxic chemicals.
“Preliminary analysis of data is showing that although the fire has extreme intensity generating smoke, no high levels of toxic chemical have been detected,” the EPA said in an emailed statement. “Everyone in the area should follow the safety instruction of local authorities, specifically staying out of the evacuation zone, and avoiding smoke and flood waters.”
The plant was among dozens of chemical facilities in the storm’s path that were shut down, knocking out more than half of U.S. production of some of the most-used chemicals and plastics.
Arkema has come under criticism for refusing to disclose publicly the exact volumes and location of chemicals known as Tier II Inventory. While the Colombes, France-based company published a list of the chemicals at the Crosby plant on its website, Roberts cited the risk of terrorism as the reason not to provide further information. The company has shared the data with authorities, he said.
By Jack Kaskey and Ryan Collins