Texas officials order evacuations after new blast at chemical plant
About 60,000 ordered to leave as TPC Group chemical plant continues to burn
Authorities in Texas called for residents in four towns to flee their homes following a new blast at a chemical plant that has been burning for more than 12 hours.
Jefferson County officials ordered residents within a 6.4-kilometre radius of the TPC Group chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas, to evacuate when a blast shredded a chemical distillation tower during firefighting efforts. About 60,000 people across Port Neches, Groves, Port Arthur and Nederland were ordered to leave.
The plant, located about 128 kilometres east of Houston, makes chemical and petroleum-based products.
Earlier on Wednesday, three workers were injured in a massive explosion that also blew out the windows and doors of nearby homes. Firefighters worked to contain a blaze that erupted after the initial blast and sent a large plume of smoke stretching for miles.
The three workers who were injured during the blast — two TPC employees and a contractor — have been treated and released from hospitals in Port Arthur and Houston, said Troy Monk, TPC's director of health, safety and security.
About 30 employees were working at the plant at the time of the first explosion and all have been accounted for, according to TPC.
Monk said the first blast occurred in an area of the plant that makes butadiene, a chemical used in the manufacture of synthetic rubber and other products. He said the plant has 175 full-time employees and 50 contract workers.
Monk said TPC does not know what caused the initial explosion, but it will form an investigation team to determine what happened.
"We're staying focused on the safety of our emergency response personnel folks in and around in the community, as well as trying to protect the environment," Monk said at a news conference.
TPC officials know that at least three tanks have been damaged by the blaze, but firefighters have not been able to fully assess damage at the plant as they remain in a defensive position, Monk said.
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said at the news conference that he was awakened at his home by the blast, which blew in his front and back doors, "damaging them pretty significantly."
Jefferson County Emergency Management co-ordinator Mike White told the Beaumont Enterprise that five residents were being treated for minor injuries, mostly related to shattered glass.
White said state environmental officials are monitoring air quality but that no elevated chemical levels had been detected.
Texas has seen multiple petrochemical industry blazes this year, including a March fire that burned for days near Houston and another that killed a worker at a plant in nearby Crosby.
In the March fire, prosecutors filed five water pollution charges against the company that owns the petrochemical storage facility after chemicals flowed into a nearby waterway.
With files from The Associated Press