Two explosions have been heard coming from Arkema chemical plant near the flooded city of Houston, with emergency officials reporting seeing black smoke.
During heavy rainfall from Hurricane Harvey, the complex in the town of Crosby lost the ability to refrigerate chemical compounds that need to be kept cool.
There was no way to prevent an explosion, the company had warned earlier.
Ahead of the explosions, one police officer who was helping secure the site was taken to hospital after inhaling fumes, while others admitted themselves to hospital as a precaution.
In a statement, the company said local officials had previously established an evacuation zone in an area 1.5 miles from our plant, based on their assessment of the situation.
“We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains. Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so”, they added.
The Arkema chemical plant shut down its production on Friday, before the storm made landfall. However, heavy rainfall in the area flooded the site and cut off its power, the company said in a statement. Backup generators were also flooded. The last remaining workers at the site were evacuated on Tuesday.
The facility manufactures organic peroxides, compounds that are used in everything from making pharmaceuticals to construction materials, which can become dangerous at higher temperatures.
“Any fire will probably resemble a large gasoline fire,” CEO Richard Rowe told Reuters news agency before the reports of explosions. “The fire will be explosive and intense.”
He said the black smoke produced would irritate skin, eyes and lungs.
“The high water that exists on site, and the lack of power, leave us with no way to prevent it.”
Rowe also said the company feels any sustained environmental impact should be “minimal,” noting the possible incident would probably be largely confined to the Arkema site itself.