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US factory explosion kills two

27 January 2020

Two people were killed on January 24 after an explosion at a manufacturing company in Houston, Texas. Buildings up to half a mile away were damaged by the blast which occurred in the early hours of the morning.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The explosion happened at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing where two employees died. A multi-agency investigation is underway to find the cause of the blast and will focus on whether any regulatory violations were committed. Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said that in addition to the factory being destroyed, 214 homes were damaged and around 50 were completely destroyed. 

Pena said early indications were that the blast was caused by a leak of propylene gas, however Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said this was unconfirmed and that the investigation could take several days, weeks, or months. Propylene is a colourless, flammable, liquefied gas made from petroleum which is most often used to make polypropylene, a type of plastic. 

Following the blast, a hazardous materials team monitored the site’s air quality after firefighters found propylene gas leaking from a tank at the facility shortly after they arrived. The leak was stopped while several small fires were left to burn themselves out.

The debris caused by the explosion is spread up to around a mile away from the factory. Police are seeking help from local residents to conduct a search for human remains and pieces of debris that could help in the investigation.

Around 20 people from the surrounding area were taken to hospital for minor injuries as a result of shattered doors and windows. Temporary shelters have been set up to accommodate those whose houses were destroyed. Officials said that the death toll and number of injured could have been much higher had the explosion occurred later in the day when more employees would have been at the factory.

As part of the ongoing investigation, the fire department is gathering information regarding Watson Grinding and Manufacturing’s chemical inventory at the site. The company, which provides machining, grinding, lapping and thermal spray coatings, is working with officials to determine the cause of the explosion.

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