At least two explosions have been reported at a flooded chemical plant near Houston in the US state of Texas.
Witnesses said on Thursday that black smoke was billowing from the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby after at least two explosions were heard at the site.
The company said in a statement that it was investigating the incident and its “potential effects on neighbors and more.”
Arkema’s chief executive had warned earlier that an explosion was inevitable.
In anticipation of the devastating Hurricane Harvey, the plant, located 21 miles (34 kilometers) from Houston, halted production on Friday.
The heavy rainfall from Hurricane Harvey has cut off the complex’s power, crippling its ability to refrigerate chemical compounds to ensure their safety.
The facility produces organic peroxides, chemical compounds used in everything from making pharmaceuticals to construction materials, which are extremely combustible in higher temperatures.
“Any fire will probably resemble a large gasoline fire,” CEO Richard Rowe told Reuters. “The fire will be explosive and intense.”
“The high water that exists on site, and the lack of power, leave us with no way to prevent it,” he said, warning that the black smoke from a fire would irritate skin, eyes and lungs.
Residents around the facility have already been evacuated in a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) radius. The Federal Aviation Administration has put a temporary ban on all flights near the complex.
So far, at least 37 people have been killed by the floods over the weekend.
The US military announced on Wednesday that it was sending warships and aircraft full of food and water to the flooded areas. Some 30,000 military troops were already mobilized to face the deadly storm.
Adding insult to injury
While people trapped in the flooded areas were in dire need of help, reports emerged on Thursday that criminals were taking advantage of the situation.
Apparently, people impersonating Department of Homeland Security special agents were telling residents to evacuate in order to rob their homes.
Houston officials said people should ask anyone knocking on their doors for official badges and credentials with their name and organization.