Three Hurt After Chemical Plant Blast Rocks Texas Town

Smoke and fire are seen from an explosion on Wednesday in Port Neches, Texas. (Marie D. De Jesus/Houston Chronicle via AP)

(CN) – An explosion early Wednesday at a chemical plant in southeast Texas injured three workers and shattered windows on stores and homes, rousing startled residents out of bed.

A butadiene processing unit at TPC Group’s plant in Port Neches went up in flames around 1 a.m. Wednesday, prompting police to evacuate everyone within a half mile of the plant. Butadiene is used to make synthetic rubber.

Port Neches, population 12,900, is 22 miles southeast of Beaumont and 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

TPC Group said the blast injured two of its employees and one contractor.

Jefferson County Emergency Management coordinator Mike White told local media the workers suffered minor injuries, but two were taken to a hospital in Port Arthur, and one was airlifted to a Houston hospital as a precaution.

A Groves Police Department clerk said she lives less than a mile from the plant and the explosion woke her up. The city of Groves borders Port Neches to the southeast.

“Very scary,” she said. “It got me up out of bed that’s for sure. But I had no damage on my home. My home is old but it’s a tough little home.”

She said she didn’t notice any damage on her neighbors’ homes either, but businesses in a historic district of Port Neches didn’t hold up so well.

“Down Port Neches Avenue, which is probably two blocks from my home, the businesses’ windows were blown out. Because when I drove by they were already there getting ready to board up their windows,” the clerk said Wednesday morning. She asked not to be named because she works in law enforcement.

The blast also reportedly blew doors off some homes and authorities said five people were treated for cuts from flying glass.

Staff at the Medical Center of Southeast Texas in Port Arthur declined to comment on the injuries of the two workers taken to its emergency room.

Firefighters are spraying water on chemical storage tanks at the plant to keep them from going up in flames and a shelter-in-place order is in effect from the plant to about 10 miles south of it, according to the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it has staff at the plant using handheld devices to take instantaneous readings of hazardous air pollutants. “No impacts to water quality have been reported,” it said.

The agency said it has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to send in an EPA plane equipped with spectrometers and infrared to measure chemicals wafting from the fire.

TPC is based in Houston and manufactures petrochemicals that are used to make fuels, synthetic rubber and plastics. It said in a statement it is not speculating on the cause of the explosion, but it will set up a claims processing hotline for affected residents.

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