PORT NECHES, Texas — Two explosions rocked the the TPC Group plant in Port Neches, Texas, on Wednesday, leading to a massive fire and evacuations around the southeast Texas town.
Tens of thousands residents were scrambling to get out of town amid a mandatory evacuation order, which includes Port Neches, Groves, Nederland and parts of Port Arthur.
Three workers were injured early Wednesday in the initial explosion that also blew out the windows and doors of nearby homes.
Firefighters worked to contain a blaze that erupted after the blast at the TPC Group plant and sent a large plume of smoke stretching for miles.
The three workers who were injured during the blast —two TPC employees and a contractor — have been treated and released from hospitals in Port Arthur and Houston, said Troy Monk, TPC’s director of health, safety and security.
About 30 employees were working at the plant at the time of the explosion and all have been accounted for, according to TPC.
The plant in Port Neches in southeast Texas, about 80 miles east of Houston, makes chemical and petroleum-based products.
Monk said the blast occurred in an area of the plant that makes butadiene, a chemical used in the manufacture of synthetic rubber and other products. He said the plant has 175 full-time employees and 50 contract workers.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said late Wednesday they have not recorded any elevated levels of concern.
Monk said TPC does not know what caused the explosion, but it will form an investigation team to determine what happened.
“We’re staying focused on the safety of our emergency response personnel folks in and around in the community as well as trying to protect the environment,” Monk said at a news conference.
TPC officials know that at least three tanks have been damaged by the blaze, but firefighters have not been able to fully assess damage at the plant as they remain in a defensive position, Monk said.
An emergency shelter has been established for the displaced residents at Ford Park, a concert and event venue in Beaumont off I-10. Only a few dozen evacuees were inside the shelter on the first night of the evacuation.
It is just one of the places many people would have never thought they would be spending the night before Thanksgiving.
“The loudest boom I’ve ever heard in my life,” said Meagan Brannin as she described the explosion at the TPC facility near her home early Wednesday morning. “The feeling is like a hurricane, but the unknown is what’s driving me crazy. You kind of know where a hurricane is going to go, and you’ve got some preparation.”
Brannin and her family have had to pack up and leave for disasters in the past. She knows what is most important; like a family quilt made from five generations of fabric, and the last message her “Maw Maw” left for her on a marker board before she died from breast cancer.
“I had dressing in the freezer, ready to cook,” said another woman down the street as she helped pack up the family car. “I had a turkey in the oven.”
“It’ll be there there when we get back,” her daughter responds.
Nobody can say when that will happen.
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said at the news conference that he was awakened at his home by the blast, which blew in his front and back doors, “damaging them pretty significantly.”
Jefferson County Emergency Management coordinator Mike White told the Beaumont Enterprise that five residents were being treated for minor injuries, mostly related to shattered glass.
White said state environmental officials are monitoring air quality but that no elevated chemical levels had been detected.
Officials in cities near the plant explosion asked residents to minimize their exposure to the chemical plume by sheltering in place, closing windows and turning off their heating and air conditioning systems.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered for everyone within a half mile of the TPC plant.
In the March fire, prosecutors filed five water pollution charges against the company that owns the petrochemical storage facility after chemicals flowed into a nearby waterway.
Temporary restraining order
Wednesday afternoon, a Southeast Texas law firm -- Brent Coon & Associates -- filed a temporary restraining order with the Jefferson County District Courthouse to preserve the evidence while investigating the cause of the explosion.
The TRO was filed on behalf of a Port Neches couple who live less than a mile from the TPC Group facility.
According to a statement issued by the firm, the couple escaped the blast area with their two children. Their home was left with broken windows and doors.
Additionally, TRO seeks representatives for class certification to help everyone who has sustained injury or damages of any kind.
ALSO POPULAR ON KHOU.COM