Some choosing to violate mandatory evacuation order amid TPC chemical fire

The chemical plant fire in Port Neches near Beaumont continued to burn Thursday, and a mandatory evacuation order remained in effect for people in a four-mile radius of the fire.

It looked like ghost town, as it appeared most people had evacuated the area surrounding the burning TPC plant. County officials warn another explosion could happen, but some here in Port Neches chose to stay put and hope for the best.

“I’ve stayed for all the hurricanes,” said James Martin who lives two miles from the chemical fire. ”I don’t have a fear button. It got broke, so it doesn’t scare me, and my kids stayed with me.”

Martin’s family prepped Thanksgiving dinner as usual Thursday afternoon despite the plume of smoke looming on their horizon.

Others chose to leave town immediately following the evacuation order issued by the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management following a large explosion Wednesday afternoon.

“I called my wife and told her to pack up and go,” said Nikolas Stasinos, a volunteer firefighter who lives in Port Neches.

He stayed behind and helping move hoses at the fire scene shortly before the blast.

“Very scary,” said Stasinos. “I got emotional yesterday when I was talking to my wife because we had just left the plant when the second explosion happened, so it’s a lot to take in, and it’ll change the way you look at things.”

It was an explosion felt as far away as northern Port Arthur.

“The entire apartment just shook,” said Dequesha Simpson who lives in northern Port Arthur. “I thought somebody ran into the building.”

Despite the jolt, Simpson’s family chose not to evacuate until Thanksgiving morning.

“My grandmother got worried,” said Saidler Simpson. “There could be another explosion, so we just went ahead and left because the smoke—it wasn’t letting up at all.”

Simson’s family is staying at Ford Park where the Red Cross has set up a shelter for evacuees.

“It’s really sad in there,” said Simpson of the mood inside the shelter. “Of course it’s Thanksgiving, and everybody wants to be with their families together.”

The Port Neches police chief says he can’t force people to leave town. If they stay, it’s their own risk. What his department will do is protect the property of those who did leave from looters.

“We’re saturating those neighborhoods with law enforcement,” said Chief Paul Lemoine.

City and county officials did not speculate on when the mandatory evacuation order would be lifted, saying it all depends on how quickly the fire can be controlled.