Fireball erupts over city after petrochemical plant blast

Three workers were injured in an early Wednesday explosion that sparked a blaze at a petrochemical plant in Port Neches, Texas, the latest in a series of chemical plant accidents in the region.

An initial explosion at the TPC Group plant was followed by secondary blasts, shattering windows and blowing locked doors off their hinges in homes near the facility, which is about 90 miles east of Houston.

Residents within a half-mile radius were evacuated.

The fiery blast follows others at petrochemical plants in east Texas. In April, a fire at a KMCO LLC plant northeast of Houston killed one worker and injured a second. A July fire at an Exxon Mobil Corp chemical plant in Baytown, Texas, injured 37, although none seriously.

People more than 30 miles away from the plant were shaken awake by the 1 a.m. CDT (0700 GMT) explosion, said sources familiar with the fire-fighting and rescue operations.

Some homes close to the plant sustained heavy damage and local police were going door-to-door to check for injuries, said the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

One of the three injured workers was flown by helicopter to a Houston hospital’s burns unit, the sources said.

The plant employs 175 and routinely has 50 contract workers on site. The company said the explosion occurred in a processing unit at the site.

“We cannot speak to the cause of the incident or the extent of damage, but TPC is assembling a team to conduct a full and thorough investigation,” the company said.

TPC processes petrochemicals for use in the manufacture of synthetic rubber, nylon, resins and plastics. The company supplies more than a third of the butadiene in North America, according to its website.

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

Residents within a half-mile of the plant were ordered to evacuate, according to the sheriff’s office.

Firefighters continued to work to contain the blaze at about 7 a.m. CDT.

The Port Neches plant can produce more than 900 million pounds (408,233 metric tons) of chemicals, according to the company’s website.

Reporting by Erwin Seba in Houston and K. Sathya Narayanan in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Arpan Varghese, editing by Louise Heavens

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