One of the world’s largest chemical companies warned Wednesday that its flooded plant near Houston will likely catch fire and explode in the next few days — and there’s nothing the company can do about it.
Arkema Group’s plant in Crosby, Texas — about 20 miles northeast of Houston — was inundated by more than 40 inches of rain by Hurricane Harvey and has been without electricity since Sunday, the company, based in Colombes, France, said in a statement.
The plant manufactures organic peroxides commonly used in everyday products like kitchen countertops, industrial paints, polystyrene cups and plates and PVC piping. The materials must be kept very cool, but refrigerators for the plant’s low-temperature containers are out of commission, and backup generators were also swamped, meaning “the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real,” the company said.
All residents within 1½ miles of the plant were evacuated on Tuesday. The National Guard was on the scene, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security set up a command post near the site.
“We have an unprecedented 6 feet of water throughout the plant. We’ve lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. And as a result, critical refrigeration needed for our materials on site is lost,” Richard Rowe, chief executive of the company’s North America operatives, said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.
“Materials could now explode and cause a subsequent and intense fire,” Rowe said. “The high water that exists on site and the lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it.”
The announcement raised fears of a repeat of the devastating explosion at a West Fertilizer Co. facility in West, Texas, in April 2013. Fifteen people were killed, and more than 160 others were injured.
Rowe acknowledged the concerns, but he said he didn’t believe any explosion would surpass the West blast.
“Depending on nature of the fire, there could be a lot of it, but nothing, I would say, to pose any long-term impact,” he said
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Shawn Hawthorn, a senior firefighter for the Crosby Volunteer Fire Department, said the plant was difficult to reach because streets in the area were under several feet of water.
“It’s serious enough that we’re evacuating at this time,” Hawthorn told NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston.