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Hurricane Laura causes fire to break out at Louisiana chemical plant

01 September 2020

Hurricane Laura, which made landfall on the south coast of the US on August 27, caused a chlorine leak and fire at a chemical plant near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The Biolab facility produces swimming pool and spa cleaning products and suffered significant damage from winds which reached up to 150 mph (240 km/h).

Hurricane Laura, August 26 - Image: NOAA
Hurricane Laura, August 26 - Image: NOAA

The Biolab plant, owned by KIK Custom Products, was evacuated when the hurricane was upgraded to category 4. KIK confirmed in a statement that all employees were safe and that a specialised team had been sent to the site. The company said on August 28 that the fire had been brought under control and the specialised team, comprising industry-leading emergency response experts and KIK employees, remained on-the-ground to support efforts to promote the safety and well-being of the Lake Charles community.

The chlorine leak and fire caused a large plume of smoke to rise into the sky and led to the Governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, telling locals to shelter in place. In a series of tweets, Edwards said that locals should close windows and doors, turn off air conditioning units, and to stay indoors until further information was provided by local officials.

According to analytics company S&P Global Platts, refineries in Louisiana and Texas were shut down or reduced operations in the face of the incoming Hurricane Laura. Phillips 66, Citgo Petroleum, Motiva Enterprises, ExxonMobil, Valero Energy, Total, and Chevron all halted production or reduced operations at some of their refineries.

The incident at the Biolab plant in Louisiana echoed the 2017 incident at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas. The plant was flooded after a week of intense rain from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, which caused a number of fires, explosions and chemical releases on the site. This led to the forced evacuation of 200 residents nearby and 21 people, including first responders, were treated for injuries, mainly from the inhalation of toxic chemicals.

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