Port Neches, Texas — Two explosions at a chemical plant in Texas put 60,000 people under evacuation orders Wednesday. The first blast, which blew out the windows and doors of nearby homes, injured three workers.
The first explosion occurred just after 1 a.m. Wednesday. Officials said the blast could be felt up to 30 miles away, and that by sunrise, toxic plumes could be seen for miles.
The impact sent debris flying through the air as frightened homeowners scrambled for cover.
“It’s like the whole house was shaken,” one woman told CBS News. “Kind of like a little mini earthquake.”
On Wednesday afternoon, there was a second massive explosion, forcing officials to issue a mandatory evacuation for the four-mile radius surrounding the plant. At a press conference Wednesday night, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said that there were also a number of smaller explosions throughout the day.
“We’re extremely grateful that nobody was killed,” he said.
All employees have been accounted for, TPC said, confirming two employees and a contractor were injured. Troy Monk, TPC’s Director of Health, Safety and Security, said at the press conference that all three of the injured workers have been released from the hospital. Officials added that it’s not yet clear when the evacuation order will be lifted.
KHOU reports that Mike White, the Jefferson County Emergency Management coordinator, said there are a few chemicals housed at the facility, including Butadiene. It is a colorless gas with a gasoline-like odor, used to produce synthetic rubber products like tires, plastics and other chemicals.
Long-term exposure has been associated with cardiovascular disease and cancer, and can damage the nervous system. But Monk said that “Real time air quality reading collected thus far do not indicate levels of human health concern.”
The plant in Port Neches in southeast Texas, about 80 miles east of Houston, makes chemical and petroleum-based products. TPC officials know that at least three tanks have been damaged, but firefighters have not been able to fully assess the harm, Monk said.
Judge Branick told Beaumont TV station KBMT the blast awakened him early Wednesday at his home, and that it initially sounded like someone firing a gun into his house.
“When I got out there and grabbed my pistol and ran to the front door, I saw that the front and back door were splintered and wood had flown everywhere … I could see the flames from the backyard,” Branick said.
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.
Texas has seen multiple 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.
In the March fire, prosecutors filed five water pollution charges against the company that owns the petrochemical storage facility after chemicals flowed into a nearby waterway.