A second explosion Wednesday at an East Texas chemical plant prompted officials to issue evacuation orders for three small cities and a portion of another as flames and smoke surged into the sky.
KBMT-TV reported that an afternoon blast at the TPC Group plant in Port Neches, about 80 miles east of Houston, followed a powerful burst at 1 a.m. that sent three workers to the hospital, injured some residents and caused property damage to homes and businesses.
County officials called for evacuations around a 4-mile radius that includes Port Neches, Groves, Nederland and parts of Port Arthur following the afternoon explosion.
TPC officials said two employees and a contractor were treated at hospitals after the initial blast and later released. The company said all employees are accounted for.
Jefferson County Emergency Management coordinator Mike White told the Beaumont Enterprise that five residents were being treated for minor injuries, mostly related to shattered glass.
“There’s extensive damage throughout the city,” Police Chief Paul Lemoine said. “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.”
Troy Monk, director of health safety and security with TPC Group, said at a news conference that it’s unclear how long it will take to extinguish the fire that erupted after the 1 a.m. explosion.
The company said it was trying to determine the cause of the blast and the extent of its damage. It promised “a full and thorough investigation” and said the injured workers were the top priority.
“We are focused on their quick recovery and providing support to their families,” the company said in a statement.
Monk said the plant has 175 full-time employees and 50 contract workers, and a total of about 30 were on the premises at the time of the explosion.
The blast blew out windows from homes and created a chemical plume that reached neighborhoods miles away.
White said state environmental officials are monitoring air quality but that no elevated chemical levels had been detected.
Port Neches resident Roger Wallace said the explosion blew out the front window of his townhouse and tore an interior door off its hinges.
“That’ll get you up quickly in the morning,” he told the Beaumont Enterprise.
The company said it has activated its Emergency Response Plan and requested assistance from Port Neches Fire Department and other first responders.
“The event is ongoing but will be brought under control as quickly and safely as possible,” TPC said in a statement.
The Nederland Fire Department in Jefferson County called for evacuations within a half mile of the plant. In neighboring Orange County, County Judge John Gothia issued a shelter-in-place order for some areas downwind of the plant because of the chemical plume.
Gothia urged residents to stay inside, close windows and turn off fans and air conditioning units.
TPC, headquartered in Houston, said teams were conducting air monitoring along the fence line of the facility and in surrounding neighborhoods.
TPC manufactures butadiene and other chemicals used in synthetic rubber, fuels, lubricant additives, plastics and surfactants. The company has manufacturing facilities in the industrial corridor adjacent to the Houston Ship Channel and Port Neches and operates a product terminal in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
“Right now our focus is on protecting the safety of responders and the public and minimizing any impact to the environment,” the company said.
Texas has had several petrochemical-industry blazes this year, including a March fire that burned for days near Houston and another that killed a worker at a plant in nearby Crosby.
Contributing: The Associated Press