The floodwaters may be receding around Houston as Tropical Storm Harvey moves out of Texas, but that doesn't mean that the danger is over. Damage caused by the former hurricane is affecting the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, which exploded twice on Thursday morning. Formerly part of oil company Total, the French corporation manufactures specialty chemicals, and some of its stockpile at the plant caught on fire, causing the explosions.
None of this comes as a surprise to the company's officials. The CEO told Reuters before the explosion that such an event was unavoidable. That's because the chemicals, organic peroxides, need to be kept cooled to stay stable. Refrigeration requires power, and the power went out at the plant earlier this week; the backup generators also failed. That means there's no way to keep these compounds in a safe state. The factory's staff was evacuated Tuesday.
"The high water that exists on site, and the lack of power, leave us with no way to prevent it," Arkema CEO Richard Rowe explained at the time. The moment of truth finally came Thursday at about 2 a.m. local time, when the Harris County Sheriff's Department informed Arkema about the blast, according to a statement from the company.
Now all that can be done is wait for the plant to burn completely. "Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, as agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out," the company wrote in a statement, warning those who might be in the area and affected. "We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains."
According to the police, some officers responding to the scene were affected by the fumes. One sheriff's deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes and nine more drove themselves out of an abundance of precaution. CEO Rowe had said that the fumes can irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs, although the Harris County Sheriff Department said on Twitter that the gas is thought to be non-toxic.
The events at the plant remind emergency workers that danger remains, even if not to the degree during the storm. The rescue effort will be switching gears during the next days as rescue calls decrease. Rescue workers will start going door to door and block to block searching for people who may have been left behind. Some 33 people have been killed by the storm.
As for the chemical plant in Crosby, a town just northeast of Houston, officials have ordered the public to stay behind the 1.5-mile evacuation line to prevent any further injuries or deaths.