A burning Texas refinery has forced the mandatory evacuation of 60,000 people after two explosions triggered multiple fires, injured three workers and rocked surrounding areas.
The first explosion early Wednesday at a petrochemical plant in Port Neches could be felt 30 miles away, and sent toxic fumes into the air that were visible by sunrise.
It blew out windows and the doors of nearby homes, and was blamed for the workers who were hurt.
A process tower flies through air after exploding at the TPC Group Petrochemical Plant. The blast followed an earlier massive explosion sparked that sparked mutliple fires at the plant in Port Neches on Wednesday
Ray Moore and Milton Perio observe the fire consuming TPC Group plant on Wednesday in Port Neches, Texas. Officials ordered the mandatory evacuation of 60,000 residents
Residents observe the fire consuming the TPC Group plant on Wednesday. Officials warned that it wasn’t clear when exactly the evacuation order will be lifted
Debris was sent hurtling through the air by the blast, sending local resident running for cover. ‘It’s like the whole house was shaken’, one woman told CBS News. ‘Kind of like a little mini earthquake’.
It was followed by a second blast Wednesday afternoon, forcing officials to issue a mandatory evacuation for the four-mile radius surrounding the plant. There were also several smaller explosions throughout the day, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said at a news conference.
‘We’re extremely grateful that nobody was killed’, he said.
All employees were accounted for, says TPC Group, the plant’s operator, confirming that two of its employees and a contractor were injured. All three were treated and released from an area hospital.
Officials warned that it wasn’t clear when exactly the evacuation order will be lifted.
Firefighters were already battling to contain the fires when the initial explosion was followed by secondary blasts, said five sources.
Hilda Lorena, who uploaded footage of the burning plant to Twitter, wrote: ‘[It] felt like a big bomb had hit. Shook the whole apartment, praying everyone is OK.’
Meanwhile Omar Hamza, who lives 15 miles from the site of the blast, uploaded photos that showed the windows of his apartment had been blown out by the shockwave and his garage doors had buckled inwards.
Ryan Mathewson, who lives roughly two minutes from the plant, told AFP: ‘We woke up to glass all over us and parts of the ceiling caved in, (and) doors blown in.’
The 25-year-old said he and his family were ‘shook up and scared’ following the blast.
Pictures and video from the scene show a huge fireball lighting up the night sky and pumping out potentially toxic smoke.
Pictures and video from the scene show a huge fireball after the first blast lighting up the night sky and pumping out potentially toxic smoke
The explosion (pictured) was so large it also showed up as a hot spot on local weather radar, while the National Weather Service picked up the smoke plume via satellite
People living in Bridge City and Port Arthur, around seven miles from the blast, reported feeling the explosion shake the foundations of their homes.
Local reporter Jillian Fertig uploaded images of a street of shops just feet away from the blast where walls had been knocked down by the force of the explosion.
The explosion was so large it also showed up as a hot spot on local weather radar, while the National Weather Service picked up the smoke plume via satellite.
TPC said the explosion happened in what it said was a ‘processing unit’ at around 1am local time (0700 GMT).
‘TPC Group has activated its Emergency Response Plan and requested assistance from Port Neches Fire Department and Huntsman.
‘The event is ongoing, but will be brought under control as quickly and safely as possible.
‘At this time, personnel at the site have been evacuated. We have accounted for all site personnel and three personnel have sustained injuries and are being treated.
‘Right now our focus is on protecting the safety of responders and the public, and minimizing any impact to the environment’.
The Port Neches plant is around 85 miles (135 kilometers) from Houston.
More than 200 people work at the facility, according to TPC Group’s company website.
Residents have been warned against touching black debris that was floating in the air after the explosion.
The facility produces butadiene, a flammable gas used in the production of synthetic rubber, and other petrochemicals such as butane.
So far, air monitoring has not yielded results that cause concern, Troy Monk, the director of Health, Safety and Security at TPC Group, reports ABC News.
A shelter for those forced from their homes has been opened at a church in Nederland, local media said.
Smoke from the burning refinery is show darkening the sky. So far, air monitoring has not yielded results that cause concern, Troy Monk, the director of Health, Safety and Security at TPC Group, reports ABC News