A flooded chemical plant situated north of inundated Houston, Texas, exploded twice on Thursday before the sun came up, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air and hospitalizing multiple police officers who inhaled potentially dangerous fumes.
The plant, which is located 20 miles northeast of Houston in Crosby and is owned and operated by chemical goliath Arkema Group, was already expected to catch fire and explode overnight, NBC News reported. Arkema Group warned officials that the only way to handle the incident would be to let the rampaging flame “burn itself out.”
“We have an unprecedented 6 feet of water throughout the plant. We’ve lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. And as a result, critical refrigeration needed for our materials on site is lost,” Richard Rowe, chief executive of the company’s North America operations, told reporters via conference call.
In a separate statement, Arkema Group explained what was in store for the plant.
“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 France-based company said in a statement. “We have been working closely with public officials to manage the implications of this situation. As agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out.”
According to Arkema spokesman Jeff Carr, the chemicals themselves are not dangerous to nearby residents, the vast majority of whom were evacuated due to severe flooding in the area. The explosions should not cause any loss of life for the same reason.
The smoke itself, however, poses its own problem.
“By all means, the plume is incredibly dangerous,” said Brock Long, administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office took to Twitter to warn that one deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes, while over a dozen others complained of “headaches and dizziness” and drove themselves to the hospital. Arkem Group officials claim that the smoke contains a “nontoxic irritant” as a byproduct of the organic peroxides produced at the plant.
One deputy taken to hospital after inhaling fumes from Archem plant in Crosby. 9 others drove themselves to hospital as precaution.
— HCSOTexas (@HCSOTexas) August 31, 2017