Evacuation ordered after explosion at Southeast Texas chemical plant

PORT NECHES, TexasPORT NECHES, Texas6 p.m. Update:

A class-action lawsuit was filed against the Texas Petrochemicals Group (TPC) on behalf of the residents of Port Neches whose property was damaged as a result of multiple explosions at a chemical plant in Port Neches. The lawsuit claims some of the homeowners saw blown-out windows and doors and damaged roofs as a result of the explosions.

A temporary restraining order was also filed against TPC to preserve evidence for further investigation. The class-action lawsuit was filed by Provost Humphreys law firm and in a press release Wednesday evening they also said they have retained “explosion experts” and “process safety engineers," among other experts to help residents.

3:30 p.m. Update:

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick issued a mandatory evacuation at about 3:30 p.m. for people within a 4-mile radius of the TPC group plant. This evacuation order reportedly affects people living in the communities of Port Neches, Groves, Nederland, Central Gardens, Beauxart Gardens, and the northeast part of Port Arthur due to the potential for more explosions.

“There were more than two explosions...What was likely the fourth explosion launched a column like a missile. If one of those columns were to launch again and land in a tank farm, it would have a more catastrophic outcome,” Branick told KPRC2.

The people who are exempt from evacuation orders include nursing homes, refining facilities, patients in the hospital and health care workers.

A part of the evacuation zone falls within Orange County, however officials with Orange County say it’s unpopulated marshland and so they are not evacuating people from the area.

What is Butadiene, the chemical burning at the Port Neches plant explosion?

Original story:

Another explosion has occurred at a plant that produces chemical and petroleum-based products in Port Neches, Texas.

Fire officials have posted photos of the flames.

An explosion happened early Wednesday morning, blowing out windows on homes several miles away.

The explosion originated at a plant in Port Neches, near the Louisiana border, on Wednesday at about 1 a.m.

TPC Group says on its website that it provides a diverse range of quality products to chemical and petroleum-based companies worldwide. The site says the company employs more than 175 full-time employees and 50 contractors. Calls to the TPC Group went unanswered.

The Nederland Volunteer Fire Department said on its Facebook page that there is a mandatory evacuation for everyone within a half-mile of the TPC plant. It said the evacuation could expand to a greater area.

A shelter-in-place for other surrounding areas was also issued but has since been lifted.

Two employees and once contractor were injured in the explosion, a TPF official said. All three personnel were taken to a hospital and have since been released.

Officials with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have continued to monitor air quality and have reported that all air levels remain normal so far.

The TCEQ will continue to monitor the air for changes.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said anyone in the area who feels irritated by the the fire should go to a relative’s home and stay clear of the wind draft.

Posts on social media by residents show the night sky lit up by orange flames and filled with thick smoke.

Resident Steven Belrose lives near the plant and happened to be awake at the time of the explosion.

Belrose said he felt his entire house shake and because he has lived around refineries for so long, immediately assumed there had been an explosion.

When he turned on the news and didn’t see any information, he drove over to the plant where he saw flames coming from the plant, Belrose said.

“...It was nothing but just a huge, huge, almost white-ish ball of flames just billowing into the air,” Belrose said. “(It) just lit up the entire sky ... I didn’t see anything like that before.”

Belrose said his church is about an eighth of a mile away from the plant and the explosion blew out all the windows around the outside of the church.

“It puts a lot of fear in a lot of families because their husbands and wives and children work in these refineries," Belrose said. "It’s a very dangerous job.”

The company released the following statement:

At approximately 1:00 a.m. today, Wednesday, November 27 an explosion was reported at the TPC Group Port Neches Operations site located at 2102 TX-136 Spur, Port Neches, TX 77561 involving a processing unit.

Emergency responders are still working to bring the event under control, and are doing so as quickly and safely as possible. Teams have been dispatched to conduct air monitoring along the fence line of the facility and in surrounding neighborhoods through mutual aid.

TPC Group sincerely remains focused on protecting the safety of responders and the public and minimizing any impact to the environment. We encourage area residents to stay tuned to information from Jefferson County Emergency Management and local responders.

TPC has established a Community Assistance Helpline for area residents who have been impacted by the event. Affected community members can contact the TPC Community Assistance Helpline at (866)-601-5880 to file a claim with our insurance provider.

Due call volume, calls may go to voicemail. Callers should leave contact information, and a representative will respond at the first available opportunity.

More information will be provided as soon as it is available.

TPC Group Executive Director Toby Parker released this statement:

Within the last year, I have witnessed an unacceptable trend of significant incidents impacting the Gulf Coast region. While not all emergency events may be prevented, it is imperative that industry be accountable and held to the highest standard of compliance to ensure the safety of the state’s citizens and the protection of the environment. At this time, the TCEQ is focused on emergency response efforts, including evaluating real-time air quality data. As this situation transitions back to normal operations and post-event remediation, all agency authority will be assessed with the aim of achieving comprehensive compliance given the presence of the petrochemical industry in Texas.

This story was originally published by our sister station in Houston, KPRC.

About the Authors:

Daniela Sternitzky-Di Napoli has been a digital news editor at KPRC 2 since 2018. She is a published poet and has background in creative writing and journalism. Daniela has covered events like Hurricane Harvey and the Astros World Series win. In her spare time, Daniela is an avid reader and loves to spend time with her two miniature dachshunds.