Volatile chemicals stored in a factory outside Houston exploded Thursday morning with black plumes of smoke seen coming from the plant as 10 police officers were hospitalized after inhaling toxic fumes. The Arkema facility in Crosby had been flooded under five feet of water from Hurricane Harvey, which knocked out backup power sources that were keeping the chemicals cool.
The company reported that two explosions were heard at the facility at 2 a.m. local time, just hours after the CEO of Arkema’s North America unit, Richard Rowe, told reporters that an explosion or fire was likely and nothing could be done to prevent it.
Arkema added that because the chemicals — organic peroxides used in kitchen countertops, polystyrene cups and plates, and other products — were stored at multiple locations at the facility, there was the chance of further explosions.
NBC 6 reporter Julia Bagg, who is on the scene in Crosby, reported that an Arkema spokesperson told her that the explosions had happened on two of eight railroad cars that were currently on fire.
Harris County Sheriff’s department said that 10 of its officers had inhaled “non-toxic irritants” following the explosions, with one being taken to hospital and nine others driving themselves as a precaution.
Arkema had shut down operations ahead of Hurricane Harvey, but after 40 inches of rain hit the facility over the weekend, the company said “unprecedented flooding” had overwhelmed both its primary power sources and two emergency backup power generators. “As a result, we lost critical refrigeration of the products on site. Some of our organic peroxide products burn if not stored at low temperature.”
Officials on Tuesday evacuated residents within a 1.5-mile radius and ordered them to stay away from their homes again Wednesday.
As well as causing dozens of deaths and destroying tens of thousands of homes and businesses, Harvey has threatened to cause significant damage to the many oil and chemical plants in the region. In recent days many of them have shut down operations as a precaution, including the Colonial Pipeline, a major fuel pipeline supplying the East Coast. Valero and Motiva, two of the largest refineries in the country, have also closed some facilities.
Motiva, the nation’s largest refinery, has also closed its 603,000-barrel-a-day operation in Port Arthur after it was flooded by Hurricane Harvey.