A flooded chemical plant in a small town outside of Houston is poised to explode, a spokeswoman for the French company that owns the plant says, though the timing and the extent of the danger are not clear.
The Arkema Inc. plant in Crosby, Texas, about 40 kilometres northeast of Houston, lost power and its backup generators amid Harvey’s deluge, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises.
“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” the explosion, chief executive Rich Rowe said earlier Wednesday.
Arkema manufactures organic peroxides, a family of compounds used for making everything from pharmaceuticals to 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.”
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 within 2.4 kilometres were told to evacuate Tuesday after the plant lost power.
Harris County Fire Marshal spokeswoman Rachel Moreno said the radius was developed in consultation with the U.S.Department of Homeland Security and other subject-matter experts.
“It’s a concerning situation, yes,” Moreno said. “But the facility is surrounded by water right now so we don’t anticipate the fire going anywhere.”
Early Thursday, tropical depression Harvey started to weaken as it moved inland over Louisiana.
The storm has killed at least 31 people and forced 32,000 people into shelters since coming ashore on Friday near Rockport, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico Coast as the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in half a century.
The Houston Fire Department will begin a block-by-block effort on Thursday to rescue stranded survivors and recover bodies, Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann told reporters.
On Thursday Harvey is forecast to move northeast through Louisiana into Mississippi, dumping 10 to 20 centimetres of rain, the National Hurricane Center said. Flood watches and warnings extend from the Texas-Louisiana coast into Kentucky.
“Our whole city is underwater,” said Port Arthur, Texas, Mayor Derrick Foreman in a social media post where he also broadcast live video of floodwaters filling his home in the city of 55,000 people, about 160 kilometres east of Houston.
Nearly 30 inches of rain hit the Port Arthur area, the National Weather Service said.
Beaumont, near Port Arthur, said it had lost its water supply due to flood damage to its main pumping station and residents in the city of about 120,000 people would lose water pressure from Thursday morning.
Fort Bend County ordered a mandatory evacuation on Thursday for areas near the Barker Reservoir, which was threatening to flood. The reservoir is about 32 kilometres west from Houston. The county did not say how many people would be affected by the evacuation order.
Clear skies in Houston on Wednesday brought relief to the energy hub and fourth-largest U.S. city after five days of catastrophic downpours. The first flight out of Houston since the storm hit boarded on Wednesday evening. Mayor Sylvester Turner said he hoped the port of Houston,
Police in Harris County, home to Houston, said 17 people remained missing.
Nearly 200,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana and Texas were without power on Thursday, utilities reported.