Hurricane Harvey has decimated much of Texas this week, as the powerful storm stalled out over the Lone Star State for several days.
Flooding along the coast, all the way inland to Houston, has culminated in what many believe will be the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history with damage far exceeding that which was experienced during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Rescue and cleanup efforts have been ongoing for days, with good samaritans not only struggling to work their way through flooded city streets, but also facing the menace of society’s underbelly. Armed looters have been opening fire on rescuers and firefighters in the past 72 hours, as well as devising dastardly plans to impersonate DHS personnel for the sole purpose of burglarizing empty homes.
Now, a new threat has emerged in the storm’s aftermath, as explosions rocked a chemical plant in the Houston suburbs.
“Arkema, Inc., which runs the plant, said in a release they were notified of the explosions by Harris County Emergency Operations at about 2 a.m. CDT. Harris County police said on Twitter that one deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the plant and nine other officers drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution.
“The area around the plant, which produces organic peroxides used in a variety of products, including construction material, had already been evacuated.
“Arkema’s CEO said on Wednesday that there was ‘no way to prevent’ a possible explosion at the company’s Crosby, Texas facility, which has been heavily flooded as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
“’We have an unprecedented 6 feet of water at the plant,’ Arkema President and CEO Rich Rowe said in comments made Wednesday. ‘We have lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power.’
“‘As a result, we have lost critical refrigeration of the materials on site that could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire. The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it,’ he said.”
These sort of threats are often the last to come to mind during times of disaster, but can be responsible for long term contamination in already affected areas.
One of the most worrisome aspects of major flooding, the likes of which are part and parcel with coastal hurricanes such as Harvey and Katrina, is the widespread contamination of groundwater. When flood waters connect with sewage, industrial chemicals, and even pre-modern cemetery land, a number of horrific contaminants become immediately mobile, tainting everything that they come in contact with.
When the flooding finally subsides, this toxic, bacterial soup of sludge retreats back into our rivers, lakes, streams, and groundwater supply, damaging the ecosystems in the area for decades to come.