Fire continues at Texas plant; 50K under evacuation order

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Ray Moore and Milton Perio observe the fire consuming TPC Group plant on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Port Neches, Texas. Two massive explosions 13 hours apart tore through the chemical plant Wednesday, and one left several workers injured. (Marie D. De Jess/Houston Chronicle via AP)

PORT NECHES, TX – More than 50,000 people in East Texas remained under a mandatory evacuation order Thursday as a fire continued to burn at a chemical plant, one day after two massive explosions there.

Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens said the evacuation order and a 10 p.m. curfew order remain in effect. Officials don’t know when people will be able to return to their homes.

“It’s Thanksgiving, a lot of people are displaced, they can’t go home,” Stephens told TV station KFDM Thursday, explaining the danger of further explosions and fire rather than air quality problems is the reason the evacuation order remains in place.

The Wednesday blasts, 13 hours apart, blew out windows and doors of nearby homes and prompted a mandatory evacuation of a 4-mile (7-kilometer) radius from the plant in Port Neches in Southeast Texas, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) east of Houston.

Port Neches fire Captain Tyler Herbert said Thursday morning that the fire is still burning and that a mandatory evacuation order covering a 4-mile radius around the plant remains in effect. That order effects 50,000 people, TV station KBMT reported.

At a Thursday evening news conference, officials said the plant is expected to burn into a third day in order to prevent more explosions. He said the plant has 175 full-time employees and 50 contract workers.

The initial explosion at the TPC Group plant, which makes chemical and petroleum-based products, occurred around 1 a.m. It sent a large plume of smoke stretching for miles and started a fire.

The second blast ripped through the plant about 2 p.m., sending a steel reactor tower rocketing high into the air. That prompted Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick, the top county official, to order a mandatory evacuation of Port Neches and neighboring Groves, Nederland and part of Port Arthur. Water cannons were trained on surrounding plant works and tanks to keep them cool and avoid further explosions.