A fire or explosion in the next few days at a flooded chemical plant on the outskirts of Houston is virtually inevitable, its CEO warned on a call with reporters Wednesday.
The Arkema Inc. factory in Crosby, Texas, 20 miles northeast of downtown Houston, lost power early Sunday, which it needs to refrigerate volatile chemicals. Those chemicals ignite if they get too warm ― something likely to happen in the next six days, Arkema North America CEO Richard Rowe said.
"Materials could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire," Rowe said. "The high water that exists on site, and the lack of power, leave us with no way to prevent it."
"We're really blocked from taking meaningful action," he added.
The company powered its coolers with backup generators at first, but they were overwhelmed by water and have failed, leaving the chemicals to warm.
Residents living within 1.5-mile radius of the plant were evacuated Tuesday, along with a skeleton crew of Arkema workers who had stayed behind during the storm in case of an emergency.
Arkema manufactures organic peroxides at the Crosby plant. According to a safe storage manual by AkzoNobel, a rival chemical manufacturer, that class of chemicals is considered "highly combustible." At high ambient temperatures, "a violent combustion or thermal explosion" is possible, the manual says.
Arkema is among dozens of chemical plants and refineries in the Houston area, many of which have sustained damage in this week's flooding, causing harm to residents' health and the environment.