Another explosion rocks a Texas chemical plant

Port Neches Plant Explosion
Port Neches Plant Explosion
Port Neches Plant Explosion
Port Neches Plant Explosion
Posted at 4:58 PM, Nov 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-27 17:58:18-05

By Faith Karimi, Eliott C. McLaughlin and Joe Sutton, CNN

(CNN) -- Another explosion Wednesday afternoon rocked a Texas chemical plant outside of Houston, where a chemical fire continues to burn.

A blast around 1 a.m. (2 a.m. ET) Wednesday at the TPC Group plant caused extensive damage across the small city of Port Neches and left at least three employees injured, authorities said. The second explosion occurred about 12 hours later. Officials have issued a mandatory evacuation within a 4-mile radius of plant because of the potential of more explosions.

Officials are focused on containment and keeping surrounding storage tanks cool, according to Troy Monk, director of health safety and security for TPC Group, which operates the Port Neches manufacturing plant about 90 miles east of Houston. The next priorities will be putting out the fire, then investigating its cause, he said in a press briefing.

"Fire crews continue to battle the blaze," said Jefferson County Sheriff's Captain Crystal Holmes told CNN in an interview. "Right now it's contained and not going anywhere but it's not under control."

'Extensive damage' in Port Neches

From an office in nearby Nederland, Kelly Berka took a photo after the second explosion that showed plumes of smoke in the horizon.

"What a damned mess," Berka wrote on Twitter. "We're clearing out."

Berka told CNN her co-worker, who lives near the plant, had her front door blown off earlier in the morning before evacuating.

Holmes confirmed the morning blast sucked doors out of homes.

City of Port Neches police said that blast caused "extensive damage" throughout the city. "Please stay off the roads anywhere near the refineries. Obey all the barricades that are in place. We are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe and informed," police said in a statement.

The fire is burning a chemical called butadiene, police said. The colorless gas is considered a health hazard, according to the US National Library of Medicine. It is made from processing petroleum and is used to make synthetic rubber and plastics.

There was no immediate data available on air quality surrounding the plant, officials said.

The company has reached out to local, state and federal officials, as well as other companies who might lend assistance, TPC's Monk said.

Be vigilant downwind, judge says

Judge Jeff Branick of Jefferson County Wednesday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET) issued a mandatory evacuation within a 4-mile radius of the burning facility due to the potential for more explosions. Besides Port Neches, mandatory orders include the cities of Groves, Nederland and the northern part of Port Arthur.

"Somebody in the path of the plume, if they feel any irritants or have any respiratory conditions or allergies, it's in their best interest to go to a relative's home or a friend's home and get out of that wind direction," Branick told reporters earlier in the day. "We think people ought to use just good ol' common horse sense because emergency personnel are too busy to try and enforce these things."

Personnel have been evacuated from the plant, which makes products for chemical and petroleum companies, said TPC Group. About 30 personnel -- out of 175 full-time employees and 50 contractors -- were on site at the time of the explosion, Monk said.

Two injured employees and a contractor have been treated and released from medical facilities, Monk said. All were taken to an area hospital, and one was then transferred to a Houston medical center, he said.

'Then I noticed an orange glow'

About 13,000 people live in Port Neches, and some said their home windows were blown out by the blast. Monk awoke to his front and back doors being blown into their frames, he said, and Port Neches Mayor Glenn Johnson told reporters, "I understand what getting blown out of bed means now."

Tyler Shawn Dunlap was sleeping when the explosion rocked his house.

"I heard and felt my house shake. I first thought people were coming to break in 'cause of our intense security," he told CNN. "I went to Dad's room, and he thought our generator blew up so we checked that, then I noticed an orange glow from the clouds."

Trent Lee said the explosion sounded like a nuclear detonation and shook everything in Port Neches. The blast was also captured on Mia Hubert's doorbell camera and left the area covered in a fiery hue.

Anyone whose property was damaged can call a claims line set up by TPC, 866-601-5880.

™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.