A spate of unexpected disasters are gripping Texas cities nearly a week after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast.
The entire city of Beaumont has no running water after both of its water pumps failed. And they won’t be fixed until the floodwater has receded.
In Crosby, plumes of black smoke billowed from a flooded chemical plant — with more chemical reactions possible.
And in Houston, where authorities will go door-to-door to search for victims Thursday, residents near the Barker Reservoir must flee immediately as the massive pool of water is at imminent risk of overflowing and overwhelming their homes.
More chemical plant fires possible
A pair of blasts at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby sent plumes of smoke into the sky Thursday morning — and more could follow.
“We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains,” Arkema said in a statement. “Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so.”
The twin blasts Thursday morning happened after organic peroxides overheated. The chemicals need to be kept cool, but after the plant lost power Sunday, the temperature rose, officials said.
That led to containers popping, including one container that caught fire — sending black smoke 30 to 40 feet into the air.
The thick black smoke “might be irritating to the eyes, skin and lungs,” Arkema officials said in a statement.
Fifteen Harris County sheriff’s deputies were hospitalized, but the smoke they inhaled was not believed to be toxic, the department said. By midmorning Thursday, all of the deputies had been released.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said nothing toxic was emitted and there was no imminent danger to the community.
Three other containers storing the same chemical are at risk of “overpressurization,” said Jeff Carr of Griffin Communications Group, which is representing Arkema.
Arkema shut down the facility as Harvey approached last week. The company evacuated everyone within 1.5 miles of plant as a precaution after it was flooded under more than 5 feet of water.
The company has said there’s a small possibility that the organic peroxide, which is used in the production of plastic resins, will get into floodwaters. “But it will not ignite and burn,” Arkema said.
Many chemical or oil plants have shut down operations due to Harvey, including the Colonial Pipeline, which carries huge amounts of gasoline and other fuel between Houston and the East Coast. Valero and Motiva, the largest refinery in the country, have also closed some facilities.
‘People are freaking out’ in Beaumont
Extreme flooding caused both of Beaumont’s water pumps to fail, meaning the city of 118,000 has no running water.
“We will have to wait until the water levels from this historical flood recede before we can determine the extent of damage and make any needed repairs,” the city said in a statement. “There is no way to determine how long this will take at this time.”
So residents lined up at stores hours before they opened Thursday in hopes of getting whatever bottled water they could find.
“It’s crazy,” said Khayvin Williams, who started waiting in line at Market Basket at 6:50 a.m. “People are freaking out.”
At a local Walmart, Jeffrey Farley said the store is only allowing 20 people in at a time and is rationing water to three cases per customer. He got in line at 6:30 a.m. and waited until 8:30 to get his water.
“It’s an insult to injury for a lot of folks,” Farley said. “The water situation has made things dire for everyone here.”
Beaumont, along with Port Arthur, was devastated after Harvey made another landfall Wednesday.
‘I have no food. I have no water.’
After flooding from Harvey inundated Port Arthur, the pleas for help keep growing.
Julia Chatham and her neighbors are trapped in her home, with virtually no supplies.
“All I have in my house is power. I have no food. I have no water. I only have power in my house. I don’t have no way of getting around,” Chatham said.
“I’m stuck upstairs. It’s just me and my dog. And I’m upstairs with my other neighbors. It’s like five of us up here.”
Even those lucky enough to get to a shelter in Port Arthur were deluged again, when murky brown floodwater filled an evacuation shelter.
‘The worst is not yet over’
Across the state, families are searching tirelessly for missing relatives on the sixth day since the catastrophic storm made its first landfall.
At least 37 deaths related to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath have been reported in Texas.
Among the dead are a Houston man who was electrocuted while walking in floodwaters and a mother whose body was floating about a half mile from her car. Rescuers found her daughter clinging to her body. The child is in stable condition after suffering from hypothermia.
Authorities are now ordering residents near Houston’s Barker Reservoir to flee as the water level is close to overflowing.
“The worst is not yet over for southeast Texas,” Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday.
Electrocuted man tried to warn off friend
Andrew Pasek was walking through 4 feet of water trying to get to his sister’s house when he accidentally stepped on a live electrical wire.
“He felt the charge and knew something was wrong right away and tried to shake it off right away,” said his mother, Jodell.
The 25-year-old quickly asked a friend to get away from him “because if you do, you know, you will go too,” he told his friend.
Pasek was electrocuted and died. His mother said no one tried to resuscitate him for an hour until the electricity was turned off.
“It could have been anybody,” she said.