A flooded chemical plant near Houston that was left without power was rocked by two explosions early Thursday – unleashing noxious fumes that sent a police deputy to the hospital, officials said.
Arkema Inc. reported that the Harris County officials notified it about the blasts, which sent black smoke spewing from the plant in Crosby, about 25 miles northeast of storm-ravaged Houston.
The Harris County sheriff’s office said one deputy had been taken to a hospital after inhaling fumes from the plant and nine others drove themselves to seek treatment as a precaution.
The injured deputy — one of several who had been dispatched to keep residents away from the plant — suffered respiratory problems after driving through a plume of smoke, Harrison County spokesman Jason Spenser told the Houston Chronicle.
However, the sheriff’s office tweeted that Arkema said the smoke was “a non-toxic irritant.”
“What we were told is that the fumes from this chemical were not life-threatening,” Spencer said. “I don’t think any of our deputies are in a life-threatening situation.”
As a precaution, officials had already evacuated an area within 1.5 miles of the organic peroxides plant, which operators had said was at risk of exploding due to a “critical issue” triggered by Tropical Storm Harvey.
“Unprecedented flooding overwhelmed our primary power and two sources of emergency backup power,” Arkema said in a statement.
“Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, as agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out,” Arkema said.
“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.”
Neither Harris County nor Arkema said whether the billowing smoke was toxic to those in the vicinity, Agence France-Presse reported.
Local resident John Villarreal, 45, told AFP he had left his home, about a mile from the plant, to survey flooding when he saw “a lot of smoke, and you could see the flames in the smoke.”