As the remnants of what was once Hurricane Harvey brought heavy rain to Louisiana on Thursday, leaving flooded east Texas to start drying out but still facing danger from flooding, the town of Crosby east of Houston anticipated additional explosions after two early morning blasts at a chemical plant.
Residents of Crosby were ordered to evacuate their homes after the explosions at the Arkema, Inc. plant emitted nine-to-12 meter flames and black smoke, resulting in the hospitalization of 15 sheriff’s deputies who inhaled the smoke. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said 13 of the deputies had been released after receiving treatment for inhaling a “non-toxic irritant,” while the other two were “still being checked out.”
The plumes, however, are considered hazardous by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long. He told reporters Thursday in Washington they are considered “incredibly dangerous.”
Arkema executive Richard Rennard said at a news conference in Crosby “there is a possibility” more explosions could occur after the company and local officials agreed the best plan was to allow the plant’s extremely flammable organic peroxides to burn themselves out.
Rennard acknowledged the situation at the plant “is a very serious issue” and that the smoke “is certainly noxious.” Rennard said anyone who was exposed to the smoke could potentially suffer irritation to the eyes, lungs or skin. He urged those exposed to “call their doctor or to seek medical advice.”
Bob Royall of the Harris County Fire Marshall’s Office said authorities established a 2.4-kilometer “evacuation zone” around the plant to ensure “our citizens are safe and that our environment is protected to the best we can.”
Forecasters expected parts of Louisiana to receive 10 to 20 centimeters of rain Thursday as the storm system continued moving inland toward the states of Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The National Hurricane Center said that while the risk of more rain is over for the city of Houston, “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” will still be present there and over to Beaumont, Texas and into southwestern Louisiana for the rest of this week.
The lingering threat of floodwaters was also clear Thursday as Fort Bend County, on the southwest side of Houston, announced a mandatory evacuation for people living near a reservoir due to “imminent flooding.”
Beaumont said the flooding has caused its water system to stop working, and the city will have to wait until the water recedes before workers can make repairs. “There is no way to determine how long this will take at this time,” a statement said.
Some services resume
In Houston, where some parts of the metropolitan area saw as much as 130 centimeters of rain, city services were resuming Thursday with regular trash pickup and limited bus and rail schedules. Flights into and out of Houston’s two main airports resumed on Wednesday.
Houston’s fire department said it will go block by block, starting Thursday, to look through areas with floodwaters of at least one meter in order to make sure “no people were left behind.”
Officials in Texas have confirmed more than 30 storm-related deaths. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes and some 32,000 others forced into shelters.
Vice President Mike Pence is visiting Texas on Thursday. He wrote on Twitter that President Donald Trump is sending him with the message, “We will be with you every single day to restore, recover, and rebuild.”
Pence said Wednesday the recovery process will be long and that everyone needs to do their part to help.
“When Congress reconvenes next week, the president will be calling on our nation’s lawmakers…to take immediate action to pass additional funding for federal disaster assistance for families and businesses affected by this storm.”
Pence will be accompanied several other Cabinet secretaries, including Energy Secretary and Texas native Rick Perry.
Trump visited Texas on Tuesday and plans to return on Saturday.
During an event Wednesday, the president praised emergency workers as heroes whose “courage and devotion have saved countless lives.”
“In difficult times such as these, we see the true character of the American people,” Trump said. “Their strength, their love, and their resolve. We see friend helping friend, neighbor helping neighbor, and stranger helping stranger.”
Estimates of the damage from the storm range into the tens of billions of dollars.
A multitude of charity efforts have raised millions of dollars from businesses, celebrities and every day people to help those who need immediate help as well as more long-term assistance in rebuilding.
The Associated Press reported rap star Bun B, a Houston native, was gathering talent for a hurricane aid concert to be televised on four national networks September 12.He is working with music manager Scooter Braun, who produced the charity concert Ariana Grande held in Manchester in June.