Homes evacuated after chemical plant near Houston explodes in towering flames

Wednesday, May 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PEARLAND, Texas (AP) _ A series of explosions rocked a chemical plant and sent flames hundreds of feet into the sky early Wednesday, prompting authorities to evacuate about 100 people from their homes. No injuries were reported but one house was destroyed.

Residents near Third Coast Packaging were awakened when their windows were rattled by the blasts at the plant, which packages and labels chemicals and includes a tank farm for storage.

``It was chaos _ fire trucks, officers, balls of fire and loud explosions,'' said Carlie Bankston, 21, who lives about three houses down from the plant. ``It was very frightening.''

The explosions were heard up to five miles from the plant and flames were seen more than 10 miles away, witnesses said. Pearland is about 20 miles southeast of Houston.

``We had flames 800 feet in the air at the plant,'' said Houston District Fire Chief Jack Williams. ``At one point, about 15 tanks were on fire.''

He said it would take two to three days for the burning petroleum products to be extinguished. But the fire was contained after several hours and flames began to subside.

Authorities used a foam-based substance to battle the blaze, rather than water that could spread the fire.

Williams said two warehouses and one house were destroyed. Occupants of the house had been evacuated but firefighters were unable to get close enough to save the building.

A check for toxic chemicals showed no such substances were involved.

``All of the product is petroleum based,'' said Houston fire spokesman Jay Evans. ``There are numerous tanks that have caved in and ripped open. There's an extreme amount of damage out there.''

Residents who weren't evacuated were urged to stay inside their homes as state health officials monitored air quality. Dikes were set up to contain any runoff.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation. The fire covered about five acres of the 15-acre site in a rural area of Brazoria County.