Overnight in the town of Crosby, some 25 miles northeast of Houston, a series of explosions and fires broke out at the flooded Arkema chemical plant.
The company warned officials as early as yesterday morning that explosions were imminent. The plant had been without power for days, unable to keep volatile chemicals cool enough to prevent combustion. As the temperatures rose, so did the likelihood of an explosion. Arkema officials say there was no way the explosion could have been prevented.
Employees of the plant were evacuated yesterday, as were about 300 residents that lived near the facility.
Matt Dempsey, data reporter for the Houston Chronicle’s investigative team, says that officials are warning that more blasts are likely.
“We know that there are eight other freezer trucks with this organic peroxide that are likely to explode,” he says. “Once they reach a critical temperature, it will start a runaway reaction and it will start a fire or explosion.”
Right now, officials are warning that the biggest danger is from the blasts themselves.
“They’re worried about anyone worried about anybody in the range or in that mile in and a half radius that might get hurt from the debris or other things from the explosions, or fires that might be happening, or inhaling that smoke,” Dempsey says.
However, Dempsey says both local authorities and Arkema officials aren’t being clear on how dangerous that smoke may be.
“When reporters are asking them for specific details about what the potential harm from any inhalation of stuff near there, they don’t have a lot to say,” he says. “Everybody starts equivocating and saying, ‘Well we don’t know for sure, it’s not toxic, or maybe it’s toxic – it’s just not good stuff. You don’t want to breathe it in.'”
However, they are saying that anyone who inhales smoke should seek medical attention. So far, 15 sheriffs deputies were taken to the hospital after coming into contact with the smoke. They have since been released.