Gas plant explosion prompts evacuations in Austin County

By Aaron Barker - Senior Web Editor, Lea Wilson - Digital News Editor

BELLVILLE, Texas - Evacuations were ordered Tuesday in Austin County after explosions and a fire were reported at a gas plant northeast of Bellville, officials said.

The first explosion was reported about 6 a.m. at the Western International Gas Plant on West State Highway 159. Several other explosions were reported within the hour, officials said.

"Loud. It's just unreal.  That's the only word I can think of,” said Marcy Grimes. She said she was delivering supplies to firefighters near the plant during one of the explosions.

Austin County Sheriff Jack Brandes said mandatory evacuations were ordered for residents who live within a 5-mile radius but was later reduced to a 1-mile radius.

"Mid-morning, the fire seemed to die down," Brandes said. "They felt like they had it contained. It was in a cool down mode. They had water tanks set up on 159, and hoses going to the scene where the fire was actually located, and they felt really good about it. Then, it went south of them."

PHOTOS: Scene of gas plant explosion in Austin County

By early afternoon, firefighters said the blaze was contained to one building away from hydrogen tanks that are at the facility.

Brandes said Highway 159 is closed from Bellville to Hempstead.

It is unclear what is on fire inside the plant, but according to the company's website the plant uses acetylene gas for welding and cutting.

"It's highly volatile -- highly dangerous, " Brandes said.

Firefighters said they believe it is safer to let the fire burn until it extinguishes on its own.

"For the safety of the firefighters, they had to pull back," Brandes said.

No injuries were reported.

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