Harvey Live Updates: Fire and Smoke Again Engulf Chemical Plant Near Houston – New York Times
Fire engulfed part of a chemical plant northeast of Houston on Friday evening, sending thick black smoke high into the sky, a statement from Arkema, the owner of the plant, confirmed. It was the same facility where, on Thursday, a chemical storage trailer exploded, setting off a fire. Flooding from Harvey, once a Category 4 hurricane that hit southeast Texas last week, had knocked out the refrigeration system needed to keep the chemicals stable.
Two trailers were on fire Friday evening, Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the Houston Fire Marshal’s office, confirmed.
“There are six more trailers there with the potential to do the same,” she said, but she could not predict whether any more trailers were immediately at risk. The company said in the statement Friday evening, “We will likely see additional incidents. Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so.”
The company has previously said that the smoke from the burning chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose and lungs, but it was not clear how much of a health threat the new release posed.
Because moving the chemicals off the site or restoring cooling was not feasible until the flooding retreated, there was no choice but to wait until the rest of the chemicals also burned off, said Janet Smith, an Arkema spokeswoman, on Friday evening.
“This is something that needed to happen. We need to get through this,” she said. “I wouldn’t describe this as a positive development, but it’s at least progress towards a resolution of the situation.”
Richard Rowe, the chief executive of Arkema’s American unit, said at a news conference Friday morning, “We continue to advise everyone to avoid the smoke and seek medical attention if they are exposed.”
Mr. Rowe has said that it was only a matter of time before more of the nine trailers holding the chemicals exploded.
At the Friday news conference, Daryl Roberts, vice president of manufacturing for Arkema’s American division,said that about 500,000 pounds of organic peroxides, which are used in making plastics and other materials, were in the trailers. The chemicals are liquids and are packaged in containers up to five-gallon size. The containers are in boxes on pallets.
The company stores other hazardous chemicals there including sulfur dioxide, which is corrosive. But Arkema’s officials have said these other chemicals were a safe distance from the trailers.
Mr. Rowe said the company would not put its workers “in harm’s way” while there were still unstable chemicals at the plant.
Here’s the latest:
• Local officials said there were at least 47 deaths in Texas so far that were related or suspected to be related to the storm.
• Flooding remained severe in eastern Texas and western Louisiana, but the storm is starting to lose its tropical characteristics as it moves toward the Ohio Valley, according to the National Weather Service.
• Anxiety about another hurricane is growing as Irma builds strength on the open Atlantic. Forecasters warned that it was still far too early to know whether its path would lead it toward the United States.
• The electricity provider Entergy said about 61,000 customers were without power in eastern Texas on Friday morning, down from a peak of 84,000. About 9,500 customers in western Louisiana were also without electricity.
• There were about 136,000 flooded structures just in Harris County, the state’s most populous, the county Flood Control District estimated on Thursday night.
• Nationally, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline continued to hit new highs for the year, reaching $2.52 on Friday, up from $2.45 on Thursday, according to the AAA motor club.
• About 42,000 people stayed in shelters in Texas on Thursday night, and an additional 3,000 Texans stayed in shelters in Louisiana, Governor Abbott said.
The water crisis continues in Beaumont.
Chocked off by the rising floods that have swamped smaller towns surrounding it, grocery stores were quickly running out of staples like bread and milk and lines of cars snaked around a neighborhood park to get to the bottles of water handed out by officials. Residents were being urged to boil their own water — if they had any.
The Neches River, which runs through Beaumont area, was expected to crest on Friday more than seven feet higher than the previous record, and to remain above the old record for several days, the National Weather Service reported.
The flooding “poses an ongoing threat” to the region, Governor Abbott said Friday. About 1,000 people were evacuated from the area Thursday night and more evacuations are expected, he said.
Officials in Texas warn of a daunting cleanup.
Governor Abbott, interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” said that Texas faced a “massive, massive cleanup process” that was going to be “far larger in scope” than Hurricane Katrina because it covered a much larger geographic area.
In an interview on CNN on Friday morning, Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said “the ramifications and the impact affect the entire country.”
Even as flooding declined along most waterways in the Houston area, the Buffalo Bayou in the city and its western suburbs remained above previous record levels, and was expected to remain that high for days. .
At a news conference, Mr. Turner made a “strong request” of residents in an area east of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs to leave their homes if there was water in them. He said the Army Corps of Engineers had informed him that those homes would remain waterlogged for the next 10 to 15 days as water continued to be released into Buffalo Bayou.
He did not issue a mandatory evacuation order, he said, because not all of the 15,000 to 20,000 homes in the area were flooded. “If I see that the situation worsens, then I reserve the right to take another step,” he said. “I’m hoping they will heed the warning and leave.”
Houston’s fire chief, Samuel Peña, echoed the mayor, saying that the floodwaters raised dangers of electrocution and structural damage.
The city’s police chief, Art Acevedo, said the police were monitoring the area from above and residents should not worry about the safety of their homes. He said that crime rates throughout the city were “lower than on a regular evening” and that there had not been widespread looting.
In response to a question, Chief Acevedo said that in two instances police officers had been shot at. A high-water vehicle and an unmarked patrol vehicle were hit by gunfire, he said, but no officers were harmed. He did not elaborate on when the shootings happened.
Trump plans to travel to the Gulf Coast on Saturday.
The president will offer his support to victims of the storm in visits to Houston and Lake Charles, La., two areas hard hit by flooding, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Friday.
Mr. Trump will also meet with local officials in the cities, Ms. Sanders said. Earlier this week, the president visited Austin, the Texas capital, and Corpus Christi, a Gulf Coast city that suffered relatively modest damage during the storm.
Texas officials said Corpus Christi, about 200 miles south of Houston, was chosen so the presidential visit would not disrupt recovery efforts in areas with greater damage.
The White House plans to ask Congress to approve about $12 billion in relief money, officials said Friday. A stand-alone bill would immediately request $5.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $400 million for other agencies. Mr. Trump intends to seek an additional $6 billion tied to a stopgap spending bill, which must be passed by the end of the month to keep the government open, according to a senior administration official who helped draft the proposal. Read more from The Times.
Gas prices are going up around the nation as refining capacity is reduced.
In parts of Houston and other places along the Gulf coast there are sporadic shortages due to flooding of roads and gasoline stations. Roughly 3.6 million barrels a day of refining capacity are still offline, or 20 percent of the nation’s total, according to IHS Markit, and a further 1.8 million barrels a day of capacity, or 10 percent of the national total, are running at a reduced level.
There are some tentative signs the oil industry is making progress to get back on its feet. The Coast Guard has given permission for a partial opening of the Corpus Christi port, port authorities said on Friday. Valero’s Corpus Christi and Three Rivers refineries, which supply central Texas, are in the process of restarting operations and are reporting limited damages. The Citgo and Flint Hills Resources in Corpus Christi are also reporting that they are making preparations to restart operations.
There have been no reports yet of serious damage to offshore production platforms. Read more here.
‘We’ve never seen it like that,’ says an evacuee in eastern Texas.
On Thursday morning, volunteers in Vidor, Tex., helped Melissa Bergin load her “menagerie” on to back of a military-style truck: her pigs Parker and Penelope, a 15-year-old Boston terrier named Diva and a parrot. Another passenger brought a poodle.
The authorities had implemented mandatory evacuations in the low-lying areas of Orange County, east of Beaumont, and Ms. Bergin said the water had climbed to about five feet in front of her house by the time she left.
“We’ve never seen it like that,” she said as her terrified pigs let out piercing squeals. “None of our neighbors have. A lot of them who’ve been in the neighborhood a good 30 years and they said they’ve never seen it.”
Like many other residents, her family left with whatever possessions they could carry stuffed into garbage bags. “We just left it all there,” Ms. Bergin, a retired accountant, said. “And we’ll go back with a hope and a prayer.”
For some, the ride to a shelter was just the latest stop. By nightfall, a line of traffic had built up on the way out of town. “We’ve been evacuated four times,” said Aleceia McClendon, who first evacuated on Monday and whose extended family in the area all had their homes flood. “We have nothing.”
As she and her family were dropped off at a shelter in Vidor, there was much uncertainty. She did not know where she would end up that night. Hours later, she sent a text message saying she was on a bus headed for Lake Charles, La. “This has been one of the worst times of my life,” she wrote, “but I am humbled by all of the volunteers that have helped us.”
A culinary stalwart stays open in a time of need.
For nine years, the Tacos Tierra Caliente food truck has been parked at the intersection of West Alabama and McDuffie Streets in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, serving tacos al pastor, tortas and quesadillas seven days a week. The truck’s owners, eight members of the Semano family, take pride in their work — so they had no intention of letting Hurricane Harvey shut them down.
Throughout the storm, even as nearly every other business in Houston closed, Tacos Tierra Caliente has kept its normal hours, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Montrose received more than 30 inches of rain over a few days, but it did not flood like other parts of Houston.
For several days during the storm, the food truck was the only restaurant open for miles. Word spread on social media. People trooped through the rain and stood in lines of up to 100. Vicente Samano, one of four family members operating the truck on Thursday afternoon, said the family had also given tacos to people who could not afford them.
Despite the long lines, the truck never ran out of food. Keeping the truck open was a matter of family and national pride, Mr. Samano said.
“That’s the Mexican spirit, the Latino spirit,” he said. “We like to work, whether we’re sick, wet, whatever. We will work no matter what.”
On Thursday afternoon, John Mondel, a federal law clerk who had just moved into an apartment down the street, joined the line. “It’s one of the reasons I chose this apartment,” Mr. Mondel said.
Times journalists are chronicling the storm and its aftermath.
• Follow Times correspondents covering the storm on Twitter: Manny Fernandez, Alan Blinder, Julie Turkewitz, Jack Healy, Dave Philipps, Annie Correal, Rick Rojas, Monica Davey, Richard Fausset, Richard Pérez-Peña and Audra Burch. A collection of their tweets is here.
• Are you in an affected area? If you are safe, please share your story by email to [email protected].
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