Fears of chemical plant explosion as Harvey floods shut down oil refineries


An industrial chemical manufacturer has warned its plant outside Houston could explode as fears turned to potential fuel contamination and ten oil refineries in the impact zone of tropical storm Harvey were shut down.

Arkema, an industrial chemical manufacturer, has warned that its plant, in a rural area near Houston, could explode and that there was “no way to prevent” it.

It is unclear how big an explosion might be, and officials have not disclosed the amount of chemicals on site. Employees and nearby residents have been evacuated.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the facility lost power from its primary supply and backup generators late Monday night. While the company moved highly volatile organic peroxides into back-up containers to keep them cool, if the chemicals became too hot, they could cause explosions or fires, the paper reported.

The storm began to move away from Houston late on Wednesday,, inundating the industrial Texas cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur and making landfall again, coming to shore in south-west Louisiana.

Six oil refineries have begun the process of assessing damage and restarting, while two refineries in the Gulf Coast region are operating at reduced rates, the department said.

A major refinery in Port Arthur was closed on Wednesday after cutting its output to 40% a day earlier. Refineries operated by Exxon, Shell and other companies have released pollutants as torrential rains damaged storage tanks and other industrial facilities on the Texas Coast, the Associated Press reported, although it is not clear the significance of the environmental risk they pose.

The Houston city center appeared to have relatively little flooding damage, officials said, but the storm leaves mass destruction in its wake. More than 32,000 people are in shelters across Texas, and there are about 107,000 power outages statewide, governor Greg Abott said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the official death toll rose to 23 after authorities reported that a married couple who drove a pickup truck into floodwaters drowned after a current from a nearby creek swept the vehicle away. Earlier, the Harris County sheriff’s office confirmed two drowning deaths north of Houston. The toll is expected to rise.

Also on Wednesday, a submerged van believed to hold six members of a Houston family was located in a muddy water about three meters deep. Efforts to recover the bodies were under way. Separately, officials reported that a three-year-old girl who was found clinging to the body of her drowned mother was likely to be released soon from hospital.

A retirement home outside Beaumont was evacuated by airboat, with agents from the Gulf states of Florida and Louisiana participating. The veterans’ administration moved nurses from Dallas, 250 miles north, to relieve nurses in Houston.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said 48,700 homes in the area have sustained flood damage, including 17,000 with major damage and 1,000 that were destroyed. The state estimated that 700 businesses had been damaged.

Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist with the Harris County flood control district, told the AP that in the Houston area, “the water levels are going down. And that’s for the first time in several days”. But in Port Arthur, near the coast, rescue teams struggled to reach desperate residents.

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Source: The Guardian