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An evacuation order was lifted Friday for around 50,000 residents on the Texas Gulf Coast after officials determined a chemical plant fire that erupted after two explosions two days earlier was under finally control.
“We are in a position to say it’s contained. We feel comfortable with the efforts that have been made by our firefighters,” Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said at a news conference in Port Neches, about 80 miles east of Houston.
Several small fires were still going inside the TPC Group facility, which makes chemical and petroleum-based products. It was not clear when those would be extinguished.
Smoke rises from an explosion at the TPC Group Port Neches Operations plant on Wednesday in Port Neches, Texas. (Marie D. De Jesus/Houston Chronicle via AP)
The first explosion occurred around 1 a.m. Wednesday at a TPC plant in Port Neches, sending large plumes of smoke into the air, stretching for miles. A second blast happened just before 2 p.m., prompting authorities to issue a mandatory evacuation inside a 4-mile radius around the plant.
Water cannons were trained on a surrounding plant to prevent another explosion.
The blasts shattered windows and ripped off doors off hinges in nearby homes. Three workers were injured in the second explosion. The company said about 30 employees were working at the plant at the time were accounted for.
A boarded up window bears a message for TPC Group as residents and business owners throughout Port Neches, Texas clean up from the damage caused by an explosion on Wednesday. Three workers were injured early Wednesday in a massive explosion at the Texas chemical plant that also blew out the windows and doors of nearby homes. (Kim Brent/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)
Branick said it could be several months before the cause of the explosions are known. He said the air quality does not pose a danger to residents but cautioned that construction on the plant began in the 1940s and that asbestos had been thrown into people’s yards.
Officials urged residents to not touch debris they find, KFDM-TV reported.
“There’s still going to be smoke in the air. There’s still going to be flames visible at night,” said Troy Monk, the TPC Group’s director of health safety and security.
“I would love to tell you we’re going to be done by the end of the day,” he added. “I would not be telling you the truth if I made that statement. It’s very difficult for us to quantify in days how long this is going to take.”
He noted there was no damage estimate to surrounding neighborhoods.
The Texas petrochemical industry has seen a series of high-profile incidents this year. In March a fire burned for days near Houston that was linked to a plant in nearby Crosby and prosecutors have filed five water pollution charges against a company after chemicals flowed into a nearby waterway.
In July, an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in the Houston suburb of Baytown injured more than a dozen people. Toby Baker, the head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the petroleum industry must be held accountable.
Environmentalists noted that the TPC Group explosion occurred just a week after the Trump administration scaled back chemical safety plant measures that had been prompted by a 2013 explosion at a Texas fertilizer storage facility that killed 15 people.
Fox News’ Samuel Chamberlain and The Associated Press contributed to this report.