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Hurricane Harvey forces residents near chemical plant to evacuate over explosion risk

Environment
Residents in Crosby, Texas, were evacuated after a chemical power plant had power failure. (Lt. Zachary West/Army National Guard via Getty Images)

A chemical plant that refrigerates explosive, heat-sensitive chemicals in Crosby, Texas, had power and backup generator failure Tuesday, which resulted in residential evacuations surrounding the plant, Reuters reported.

Janet Smith, Arkema's spokesperson, told the Houston Chronicle that the company's cold-storage warehouse lost power when backup generators were flooded.

After the failure, employees transferred products from the cold-storage warehouses to diesel-powered refrigerated containers. Flooding has also compromised those backup containers, although the company continues to monitor temperature levels remotely, Reuters reported.

The report

The company reported the failure to local authorities on Tuesday morning. Later in the day, the Harris County Fire Marshals evacuated residents within 1.5 miles of the plant as a "precautionary measure."

"Arkema notified the County of a possible reaction of some of the chemicals on site. There is a potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire at the facility, which could produce a large amount of black smoke," Fire Marshals said in a statement posted on Twitter. "The County will continue to monitor the situation and work with company officials."

Addressing the problem

Although the plant closed Friday, the company currently has 11 employees who are scheduled to ride out Hurricane Harvey, the Chronicle reported.

"Arkema does not believe that the situation presents a risk to the community or the ride-out crew, due to the distance between the refrigerated cars and any people," Smith told Chron.

The company, however, says their hands are tied during the hurricane.

"Arkema is limited in what it can do to address the site conditions until the storm abates," Smith said. "We are working without pause to keep our materials safe. We have no higher priority than the safety of our employees, neighbors and the environment. While roads around our plant are impassable, our ride-out crew has two boats that could be used to carry the crew out of the site."

Because of the seriousness of the issue, Arkema is working with the Department of Homeland Security and the state of Texas to set up a command post near their Crosby site. The company said in a site status update that regulatory agencies have also been notified of the situation.

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