Port Neches, Texas — Fires and an explosion at two chemical plants hundreds of miles apart sparked emergency orders for residents in the early hours of Wednesday morning, forcing some residents of a Texas town to evacuate. A plant that produces chemical and petroleum-based products in East Texas exploded, blowing out windows on homes and a school up to several miles away.
CBS News affiliate KFDM cited Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick as saying the explosion hit a plant in Port Neches, near Texas’ border with Louisiana, on Wednesday at about 1 a.m. (2 a.m. Eastern).
Branick told the station that his emergency management coordinator had told him there were no reports of fatalities. He said only three people sustained minor injuries, which the judge called a miracle. All workers at the plant were accounted for.
KFDM said Branick’s own home sustained damage, with doors and windows being blown off by the force of the blast.
TPC Group, which owns the Port Neches facility, says on its website that it provides a diverse range of products to chemical and petroleum-based companies worldwide. The site says the company employs more than 175 full-time employees and 50 contractors. Calls to the TPC Group went unanswered early Wednesday morning.
The Nederland Volunteer Fire Department said on its Facebook page that there was a mandatory evacuation for everyone within a half mile of the TPC plant. It said the evacuation could expand to a greater area.
Later the fire department said Judge John Gothia, in neighboring Orange County, had issued a shelter in place order for some residents until 6 a.m. local time, “due to the explosion at the TCP plant in Port Neches and the East Northeast wind direction carrying a chemical plume. Shelter in Place means to stay inside, close windows, turn fans and air conditioning units off.”
KFDM said viewers had called the station to report broken windows at their homes, and said the blast could be felt miles away from the site.
Another chemical plant fire
The blast in Texas wasn’t the only chemical plant incident on Wednesday evening. Authorities in Charleston, South Carolina were working to contain a leak at the LANXESS chemical plant after a fire broke out there, forcing a brief shelter-in-place order for some residents.
CBS News affiliate WCSC said residents in the area, north of downtown Charleston, got a call from emergency services warning them to close their windows and doors and remain inside for a short period after the alarm was raised. The fire, which was quickly brought under control, triggered an alarm at about 2 a.m. Eastern.
The order for residents to keep their homes shut tight was later lifted, but WCSC said officials were still working to determine what substance was leaking from the facility and to contain it.
LANXESS is a chemicals production corporation with facilities across the globe. Its website says the Charleston facility is used to produce “phosphorus chloride plus numerous derivative products such as flame-retardant additives and intermediate products for agrochemicals.”