Explosions at Houston chemical plant after it was flooded by Harvey

  • Two explosions at Arkema chemical plant near Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey flooding.
  • 15 police officers were taken to hospital for inhaling fumes, while a 1.5-mile evacuation perimeter remains in place.
  • There’s a risk of further explosions as officials plan to allow the fire to burn out.
  • The incident wiped roughly €100 million ($US92 million / $US118 million) off Arkema’s market value.

Explosions have been reported at a chemical plant near Houston, Texas, which was hit by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north east of Houston. It lost power and its backup generators amid Harvey’s deluge, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises.

Arkema is located on the outskirts of Houston. Google

Arkema, the French company that owns the Crosby plant, confirmed on Thursday morning that it was made aware of the explosions by the local emergency operation, Harris County Emergency Operations Center.

In a statement, the company said the explosions were reported at 2 a.m. local time (CDT) and an evacuation zone of 1.5 miles remains in place around the plant.

Police and fire services have also imposed a no-fly zone around the area, which extends to drones. It means media are unable to get an aerial shot of the plant.

The National Weather Service Houston tweeted this warning:

This was what the plant looked like before the fire:

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office’s tweeted that 15 police officers were taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the chemical plant. Thirteen of these were released, while another two are still being assessed.

KPRC 2 Houston reported that some of the officers were complaining of “headaches, dizziness” after the explosions. But Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters that the fumes were not toxic and were similar to “standing over a burning campfire.”

There are no reports of other injuries currently.

The fire service downplayed the size of the explosions. Bob Royall, assistant chief of the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, preferred the term “container ruptures” when addressing reporters on Thursday. “I don’t want the public thinking these are massive explosions,” he said, in a press update that was streamed on Periscope.

Video from local TV station KHOU showed an eerie glow from the fire. The media is being kept back 1.5 miles from the scene:

Arkema warned that there is a risk of further explosions.

“We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains,” the company said. “Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so.”

Earlier on Thursday morning, an Arkema spokeswoman said the fire will “resemble a gasoline fire” and will be “explosive and intense in nature.” The spokeswoman agreed with local officials that the “best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out.”

The news has wiped roughly $US92 million / $US118 million off Arkema’s market value. Shares listed on Euronext are down 2.1% at lunchtime on Thursday.

The plant is not located in a heavily populated area.

Arkema map

It looks like one of hundreds of tank farms that dot the Texas landscape.

Arkema Texas

This is a view of the plant from near the front gate:

Arkema plant