Storm Harvey: Explosions at flooded Texas chemical plant

Death toll from US weather event rising as bodies are found in receding waters

A human chain has helped a woman, who had gone into labour, to a rescue truck in Houston, Texas. Video: Reuters

 

There have been explosions at a chemical plant in Crosby in Texas which has been surrounded by floodwater as a result of Storm Harvey sweeping across the south of the United States.

The operator of the plant, Arkema SA, said there had been two explosions and more could come.

Local officials earlier this week ordered the evacuation of residents living within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said a deputy was taken to hospital after inhaling fumes at the plant.

The storm - the intensity of which has been lessened from a hurricane to a depression - moved inland over Louisiana on Thursday, leaving behind record flooding that drove tens of thousands from their homes in Texas. The death toll was rising as bodies were found in receding waters.

The storm has paralysed Houston, one of the biggest cities in the US, and the wreckage is likely to ensure Harvey is one of the most expensive natural disasters in US history. The weather event presents president Donald Trump’s administration with massive humanitarian and rebuilding challenges.

Shelters

The storm has killed at least 35 people and forced 32,000 people into shelters since coming ashore on Friday near Rockport, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico Coast. It was the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in half a century.

The Houston Fire Department will begin a block-by-block effort on Thursday to rescue stranded survivors and recover bodies, Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann told reporters.

On Thursday Harvey is forecast to move northeast through Louisiana into Mississippi, dumping 10cm to 20 cm of rain, the National Hurricane Centre said. Flood watches and warnings extend from the Texas-Louisiana coast into Kentucky.

“Our whole city is underwater,” said Port Arthur, Texas, Mayor Derrick Foreman. He also broadcast live video of floodwaters filling his home in the city of 55,000 people, about 160km east of Houston.

Nearly 30 inches (76.2 cm) of rain hit the Port Arthur area, the National Weather Service said.

Beaumont, near Port Arthur, said it had lost its water supply due to flood damage to its main pumping station and residents in the city of about 120,000 people would lose water pressure from Thursday morning.

Fort Bend County ordered a mandatory evacuation on Thursday for areas near the Barker Reservoir, which was threatening to flood. The reservoir is about 30km west of Houston.

Clear skies in Houston on Wednesday brought relief after five days of catastrophic downpours. The first flight out of Houston since the storm hit boarded on Wednesday evening. Mayor Sylvester Turner said he hoped the port of Houston, one of the nation’s busiest, would reopen soon.

Missing

Police in Harris County, home to Houston, said 17 people remained missing.

Nearly 200,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana and Texas were without power on Thursday, utilities reported.

At least $23 billion worth of property has been affected by flooding from Harvey just in parts of Texas’ Harris and Galveston counties, according to a Reuters analysis of satellite imagery and property data.

“The worst is not yet over for southeast Texas, as far as the rain is concerned,” Governor Greg Abbott said.

He warned that floodwaters would linger for up to a week and said the area affected was larger than that hit by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people in New Orleans, and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, which killed 132 around New York and New Jersey.

Houston’s metropolitan area, with an economy about as large as Argentina’s, has a population of about 6.5 million, far greater than New Orleans’ at the time of Katrina.

A day after visiting Texas to survey the damage, Mr Trump pledged to stand by those affected by the storm.

Reuters