Fire breaks out at Harvey-hit chemical plant after “series of pops,” police say

BARRETT, Texas — A fire broke out at a Houston-area chemical plant that lost power early Thursday after Harvey engulfed the area in extensive floods, police said.

The plant’s operator had earlier said the facility was rocked by two explosions, but police later described the incident as a “series of pops.”

Arkema Inc. said in a statement on its website that the Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the plant at about 2 a.m.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet that a deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes. Nine other deputies drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution.

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office said there had been “a series of chemical reactions” at the plant and advised people to stay away from the area.

A spokeswoman for the plant in Crosby, Texas, said late Wednesday that the flooded facility had lost power and backup generators due to the flooding, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises. The plant is about 25 miles northeast of Houston.

“The fire will happen. It will resemble a gasoline fire. It will be explosive and intense in nature,” spokeswoman Janet Smith told The Associated Press late Wednesday.

There was “no way to prevent” an explosion, chief executive Rich Rowe said earlier Wednesday.

Arkema manufactures organic peroxides, a family of compounds used for making a variety of products including pharmaceuticals and construction materials.

“As the temperature rises, the natural state of these materials will decompose. A white smoke will result, and that will catch fire,” Smith said. “So the fire is imminent. The question is when.”

Harvey struck Southeast Texas last week, slamming into the coast as a Category 4 hurricane, then weakening to a tropical storm that dumped record amounts of rain on the state, in particular the Houston area. The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression late Wednesday.

The company shut down the Crosby site before Harvey made landfall last week, but a crew of 11 had stayed behind. That group was removed and residents living within a 1.5-mile radius were told to evacuate Tuesday after the plant lost power.

Harris County Fire Marshal spokeswoman Rachel Moreno said late Wednesday that the 1.5-mile radius was developed in consultation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other subject-matter experts.

“The facility is surrounded by water right now so we don’t…

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