PORT NECHES, Texas - On Thanksgiving Eve last year, 50,000 people were evacuated from their homes after a massive plant explosion in Port Neches. A year later, the community is still struggling to get back on their feet.
Just before 1 a.m. on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving last year, the TPC Plant in Port Neches exploded, sending a ball of fire and thick black smoke into the air. The blast prompted a mandatory evacuation order and blew out glass windows, doors, and roofs off nearby residences.
The impact was felt for miles. John Beard Jr. lives six miles away from the plant and said he felt his house rattle.
For the last year, Beard has been pushing local officials for more accountability.
"What are you going to do to make it safer for us? This was a catastrophic incident, even for people that lived as far away as I do. Because the plume, the smoke that came from that passed over my house and it passed over the majority of the city of Port Arthur, and the people who are maybe not as affected as those close by. But they had to breathe this air in and breathe in those pollutants," Beard said.
The fire continued to burn for days and the TPC plant exploded at least another two more times.
Some of the 50,000 residents who were displaced didn’t have the money to fix the damage and never returned home.
In the last several months, Hurricanes Laura and Delta only made the devastation worse.
"If your home had damaged by problems already, all these storms do just make it that much was it really expose them for what they were. And I know a lot of people still trying to struggle from Harvey even," Beard said.
Adrian Shelley, the Director of the Texas Office of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization, is now calling on Texas lawmakers to impose stricter rules and additional oversight for petrochemical companies.
The 87th Texas Legislature is expected to convene in January.
"The people of Houston should not have to face fire or an explosion every six weeks. We're asking for more funding for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for inspectors or monitoring. We are asking for mandatory fines or companies or guilty of illegal pollution, the leases or other violations of the law," said Shelley.
In a statement, the TPC Group addressed the recovery efforts.
TPC Group continues to progress on recovery activities at the Port Neches site, and the team is focused on safe and environmentally sound operations.
Situation Update: TPC Group’s Technical Team, along with site personnel and contractors, have essentially completed the de-inventory process. Efforts to further de-risk the site have been accomplished safely and without incident. The first phase of the demolition is well underway to safely remove debris, clear streets and to remove damaged equipment. We expect this work to be completed in early 2021.
TPC Group continues to work with regulatory agencies, insurance providers and counsel for private party claimants to ensure that all parties are aligned as site demolition progresses. This coordination will continue throughout the demolition effort. We continue to do our part to protect the safety of our employees and our community through our environmental, health and safety, and security performance. In the demolition phase of recovery, TPC Group will use the STAN and other communication methods, including social media, to issue courtesy notifications and keep stakeholders informed of any activity that may impact them. Air monitoring also continues onsite.
Site Operations: Terminal operations are underway as part of a three-phased start-up process to serve current and future customers and supplier needs. TPC Group is currently moving raffinate to one of our largest customers in the area. The next phase of the Terminal Project should come online at the end of 2020 and will begin moving product in January 2021.