The Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby early Thursday, the company said in a statement.
Arkema said Harris County officials notified the company about the explosions around 2 a.m. Thursday, adding that residents may hear additional explosions because the product is stored in multiple locations within the plant, which is 25 miles northeast of downtown Houston. Nearby residents should stay inside, turn off their air conditioning and close their windows and doors.
“You shouldn’t be here, but if you haven’t left, shelter in place,” Arkema spokesman Jeff Carr said. “That’s our advice.”
The company expects up to six more explosions, Carr said, since the plant has eight containers of organic peroxide.
The company said it had agreed with local authorities that, because of the volatile chemicals involved, “the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out.”
“The plan all along from the fire marshal was that if it catches fire, let it burn itself out and contain it,” said Jason Spencer, a spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
Within two hours of the explosions, sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to block off roads in the area and a stream of fire trucks headed to the scene. Highway 90 was blocked in both directions at Crosby Eastgate, according to Houston TranStar’s traffic map. The plant sits just 1,000 feet or so from the highway. One deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes, the sheriff’s office tweeted about 4 a.m. Thursday. Nine other deputies drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution.
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said nearby residents should shelter in place at home. He said authorities would tell local residents if a wider evacuation zone was needed, adding on Twitter that he was coming to the scene.
Spencer said the deputies had been dispatched to keep people from getting too close to the plant. The injured deputy had respiratory problems after driving through a plume of smoke. However, the sheriff’s office tweeted that Arkema said the smoke the deputies inhaled was “a non-toxic irritant.”
“What we were told is that the fumes from this chemical were not life-threatening,” Spencer said. “I don’t think any of our deputies are in a life-threatening situation.”
The National Weather Service reported that winds in that area were moving to the east at 4 to 9 mph as of 4:30 a.m.
Crosby officials had been bracing for an explosion at the Arkema plant where floodwaters knocked out power and generators needed to keep volatile chemicals stored at the facility cool.
At a press news conference Wednesday, Rich Rowe, Arkema’s CEO, said that if the volatile organic peroxides stored at the plant get too warm, some sort of explosion will happen.
“There is no way to prevent an explosion or fire,” Rowe said.