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Residents near flooded Texas chemical plant told to evacuate due to explosion risk

30 August 2017

All residents within 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of a chemical plant in Crosby, southeast Texas, were told to evacuate as a precautionary measure on August 29 because of the risk of an explosion, the local fire marshal's office said. Earlier in the day, plant owner Arkema said in a statement the situation at its plant was such that it had decided to evacuate all of its staff from the facility.

Arkema said refrigeration of chemicals had been compromised at the plant after the rising floodwaters had knocked out its main and backup electricity supply on August 27. The plant makes organic peroxides used by the plastics and rubber industries and some of the volatile chemicals used need to be stored at low temperatures to avoid combustion.

“The situation at the Crosby site has become serious,” the company said on its Web page. “At this time, while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.”

Arkema said it was working with the US Department of Homeland Security and the state of Texas to set up a command post near the site.

Hurricane Harvey, which came ashore in Texas last week as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, has caused catastrophic flooding. Arkema shut down the plant before Harvey made landfall but left a skeleton crew on site which it pulled out after the electricity supply failed. The company said that more than 40 inches of rain had fallen on the site in a few days and it was heavily flooded.

Update: On the morning of August 31 two explosions were reported at the Arkema plant in Crosby. Flames shot up to 12m high, according to local officials.

15 police officers were taken to hospital following the double blast and were treated for eye irritation.

"We want local residents to be aware that the product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains," Arkema said in a statement. "Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so," the company added.

Toxic chemicals on site include sulphur dioxide and methylpropene.

The Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement: "EPA has emergency response personnel on the scene and the agency is currently reviewing data received from an aircraft that surveyed the scene early this morning. "This information indicates that there are no concentrations of concern for toxic materials reported at this time."

But at a news conference in Washington, DC, Brock Long, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he considered plumes from the explosion "incredibly dangerous".
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a temporary ban on flights over the plant.

Moody's Analytics estimated the economic cost for south-east Texas at up to $75 billion, ranking Harvey among the costliest storms in US history.

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