By Cheyenne Roundtree
A raging fire has broken out at a Texas chemical plant after the Houston-area location had two explosions due to Hurricane Harvey power outages.
Flames and dark plumes of smoke could be seen coming from the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, on Friday evening local time (Saturday morning NZ time).
Officials acknowledged that one trailer is filled with organic peroxides and possibly a second is on fire, as an executive had said up to eight more containers could burn, the Daily Mail reported.
The recent blaze comes after another container of organic peroxides exploded and caught fire early on Thursday (local time), sending acrid smoke into the air.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it has a surveillance aircraft checking to monitor any airborne toxic chemicals that may arise from the smoke.
While billowing black smoke poured out of at least one trailer on Friday, Arkema spokeswoman Janet Smith reiterated statements executives made earlier in the day that the remaining containers of organic peroxides would explode.
She said that the safest course of action is to simply "let these fires happen and let them burn out".
Arkema's president and chief executive, Rich Rowe, apologised and said he was sending a team of employees to Crosby to figure out how best to assist locals.
"I realise this is not a situation that we can help remedy overnight," he said.
Harvey's floodwaters engulfed backup generators and cut off the refrigeration necessary to keep the organic peroxides, used in such products as plastics and paints, from degrading and catching fire.
Employees had been pulled, and up to 5000 people living nearby were warned on Tuesday to evacuate.
Early on Thursday, two blasts blew open a trailer containing at least two tons of material, sending up a plume of black smoke and flames 30- to 40-feet (9-12m) high in the tiny town about half and hour from Houston, authorities said.
No serious injuries were reported, but 15 sheriff's deputies complained of respiratory irritation and were released after being examined at a hospital.
The Texas environmental agency called the smoke "especially acrid and irritating" and said it can impair breathing and inflame the eyes, nose and throat.
Additional small blasts, or "pops", were heard coming from the plant on Thursday night. But it wasn't clear if they were caused by exploding containers or pressure releasing from valves, Moreno said.
The Environmental Protection Agency and local officials said an analysis of the smoke that came from the plant early on Thursday showed no reason for alarm.
Emergency crews continued to maintain about a mile buffer around the plant that was established earlier this week when Arkema warned that chemicals kept there could explode.
Officials remain comfortable with the size of the buffer, Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Fire Marshal Office, said on Friday evening.
In Thursday's explosions, at least two tons of highly unstable chemicals used in the production of plastics and paint blew up and burned.
The thick black smoke stung the eyes and lungs, raising health concerns, but the fire burned out around midday.
No serious injuries were reported. But the blast added a new hazard to Harvey's aftermath and raised questions about the adequacy of the company's master plan to protect the public in the event of an emergency at this time.