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Fire Reported At Chemical Plant In Crosby, Texas

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There's a fire at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. The plant is about 20 miles northeast of Houston, and it houses volatile chemicals that need to be refrigerated. But after Harvey dumped unprecedented rainfall on the Texas coast, the plant lost both its primary and its backup power.

Al Ortiz is a reporter with Houston Public Media, and he has just been at the latest press briefing from officials in Crosby. Thank you for being with us, Al.

AL ORTIZ, BYLINE: Yes, hello. Good morning.

CHANG: So can you just give us some more details on these explosions?

ORTIZ: Well, there have been multiple explosions. But the specific number hasn't really been disclosed at this point. At the press conference, an executive with one of the divisions of Arkema, which is the company that owns this material - his name is Richard Rennard. He explained that the situation is that they had nine containers of what's called liquid organic peroxides. And the main problem is that they have - because of flooding, they have lost their refrigeration capability in eight of those nine containers. So what that means is that they are progressively degrading. And therefore, they will burn. And yes, they can cause those explosions.

CHANG: Let me get that straight - because of the flooding, the power went out so there wasn't enough power to keep the refrigeration going. These chemicals were not kept at the temperature they were supposed to be kept at. And that is what started the combustion?

ORTIZ: That is correct. And the problem is that because of the floodwaters, it is not safe to try to access the containers and somehow reactivate that refrigeration, which probably wouldn't be doable anyway because there's no power.

CHANG: There's no power. Well, then, what happens now? Is it just a waiting game? Do they wait until the fires burn out on their own?

ORTIZ: To a great extent, yes. What Mr. Rennard said was that the way the company sees it, the safest plan at the point is to just let the material progressively degrade and burn and hope for the best in the sense that there are no big explosions. He didn't really clarify in any way what could be the potential health hazards for the population of Crosby.

CHANG: And is there any timeframe estimate on that? How long would it take a fire like this to burn itself completely out?

ORTIZ: We asked him about that, but he wouldn't give a clear answer. He said he really didn't know.

CHANG: All right. Al Ortiz from Houston Public Media, thank you very much for joining us.

ORTIZ: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.