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Helping Harvey’s Frontline Communities as the Pipes Break

An oil refinery is seen before the arrival of Hurricane Harvey on August 25, 2017 in Corpus Christi, Texas. As Hurricane Harvey comes ashore many of the countries oil refineries are in its path and have had to shut down. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“People don’t know what’s seeping into their air and their homes.”

Two explosions and “plumes of black smoke” were reported early Thursday morning at an Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, following warnings from Arkema CEO Richard Rowe Wednesday night that “high water and lack of power” caused by Hurricane Harvey placed the facility at serious risk.

In a statement on Thursday, Arkema urged residents to stay clear of the site and cautioned that the “threat of additional explosion remains.”

The company continued:

As we communicated in recent days, our site followed its hurricane preparation plan in advance of the recent hurricane and we had redundant contingency plans in place. However, unprecedented flooding overwhelmed our primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, we lost critical refrigeration of the products on site. Some of our organic peroxides products burn if not stored at low temperature.

CBS19, the Houston affiliate, first reported the explosions early Thursday and noted that black smoke was emerging from the area.

Arkema’s CEO warned Wednesday night that any fire resulting from exploding chemicals would likely “resemble a large gasoline fire.”

“The fire will be explosive and intense,” he concluded.

As CNN noted, “one deputy was hospitalized after he inhaled fumes” from the plant. “Nine others drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution.”

Green groups have in recent days warned that explosions of this kind were likely to result from a massive rain event like Hurricane Harvey striking the heart of the petrochemical industry. As the Huffington Post noted, “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.”

“Living just two miles from one of the largest collections of chemical plants and refineries, I’ve seen the black smoke burning off from these deadly and dangerous plants, I’ve smelled the oil and chemicals, and I know the fear that strikes so many of our communities on a daily basis, which has been magnified by Harvey,” said Sierra Club organizer Bryan Parras.

“Perhaps the most terrifying thing at the moment is that we simply don’t know what’s happening at these facilities.” — Bryan Parras

Tell Congress there needs to be a just response to Hurricane Harvey that meets the needs of these frontline communities.

Refineries have already begun to emit dangerous pollution as a result of Hurricane Harvey, Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, and local reporters are warning that it is unclear what impact the fumes from Thursday’s explosion and its aftermath will have on the population.

“Now the thing’s exploded, and people don’t know what’s seeping into their air and their homes,” wrote Houston Chronicle reporter Lydia DePillis‏.

{See a map of toxic sites across the path of Hurricane Harvey.}

“The dark clouds hang not only over our skies, but over our hearts and minds. Our community is losing loved ones, many will be forced to rebuild their homes, and they and others are having the sense of home ripped away,” said Reggie James, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“The damage and heartbreak that continues to be caused by this hurricane will  be found in the days, weeks, months, and years to come, but it will not break the bonds of our community.”

It’s important to note that rainfall is expected to continue to fall in affected, already flooding areas.


From the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club’s #HarveyHelp page:

If you can help those being affected by this disaster with time, money, and/or resources, here’s an aggregated list of helpful resources:

Sierra Club Fundraising

Direct Donations to Local Organizations:

More resources:


The above reporting by Jake Johnson of Common Dreams was edited and expanded for this dispatch.