Three 'significant' explosions rattle plant in Port Neches

A third "significant" explosion rattled a plant in Port Neches on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s hard to say exactly how many explosions have occurred since 1 a.m., but there have been several smaller ones. The Jefferson County judge says there have been three significant ones, the latest occurred at about 2 p.m., injuring 3 workers and 5 nearby residents in total.

The fire continues to burn at the chemical plant in Port Neches where an explosion left three workers injured and blew out the windows of nearby homes early Wednesday morning. Five nearby residents were also reportedly injured during the explosions. 

An explosion was reported around 1 a.m. Wednesday at the TPC Group Port Neches Operations site. The plant in Port Neches, about 80 miles east of Houston near the Louisiana state line, makes chemical and petroleum-based products.

According to TPC, the processing unit that was involved contained butadiene, which is a chemical component used in the making of synthetic rubber.

TPC officials say they had about 30 people working at the plant when the explosion occurred early this morning. All of them were accounted for. Officials say three workers were injured at the refinery.

Five other people in the vicinity were reportedly hit by broken glass.

The Nederland Volunteer Fire Department warned people living south of Interstate 10 near the plant to minimize their exposure to the chemical plume by sheltering in place, closing windows and turning off their heating and air conditioning systems. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for everyone within a half mile of the TPC plant, and the fire department said that evacuation could expand to a wider area.

Following the explosion, TPC said it activated its Emergency Response Plan and requested assistance from local fire departments. In a statement Wednesday morning, TPC said the event was ongoing, but would be brought under control as quickly and safely as possible.

Right now, firefighters are working on spraying water on surrounding tanks and process units to prevent the fire from spreading, but TPC officials say they’re letting what is on fire burn out.

TPC officials say air quality tests were initiated immediately after the fire began and they’ll continue testing air throughout the course of this fire.

TCEQ, EPA and the Coast Guard are also investigating.

TCEQ released this statement Wednesday afternoon:

TCEQ is currently responding to the fire at TPC Facility in Port Neches, TX. Currently, TCEQ staff are conducting handheld monitoring and providing that information to Unified Command. TCEQ will also provide all updates through social media and our Emergency Response Webpage. Regional staff are continuing to conduct handheld monitoring outside the evacuation zone with Ultraraes. This handheld equipment provides instantaneous readings for various compounds including volatile organic compounds, benzene, lower explosive limit, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, radiation. No impacts to water quality have been reported. TCEQ has requested EPA’s support including ASPECT fixed-wing aircraft. EPA is sending an On-Scene Coordinator and technical support personnel to the site. TCEQ contractors are en route and will also provide air monitoring support. All data will be provided to local officials through Unified Command for them to make important decisions on warnings and evacuations.This incident is causing the release of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Elevated levels of VOCs from this facility are odorous. Short-term exposure to high concentrations of VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, and nausea. If you experience these health effects, leave the area until the situation has resolved.

As for what caused the fire, TPC officials say at they won’t speculate at this time.

Posts on social media by residents early Wednesday morning showed the night sky lit up by orange flames and filled with thick smoke. Residents nearby reported having their windows and doors blown out.

The TPC Group released this statement Wednesday morning:

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.

TPC Group has activated its Emergency Response Plan and requested assistance from Port Neches Fire Department and Huntsman.

The event is on going, but will be brought under control as quickly and safely as possible.

At this time, personnel at the site have been evacuated. We have accounted for all site personnel and 3 personnel have sustained injuries and are being treated.

Right now our focus is on protecting the safety of responders and the public, and minimizing any impact to the environment.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.