DEER PARK, Texas - It has been over a week since a fire broke out at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. in Deer Park, sending a plume of smoke over the city and causing havoc for area residents.
ITC officials gave an update on the incident Tuesday, nine days after the initial fire broke out.
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Brent Weber, ITC's incident commander, said in a news conference Monday that five tanks had been emptied and secured, and the company expected to have at least one more done by Monday afternoon.
Weber said two tanks were still full. He said one tank has lube oil in it and there is no risk of emissions and the other is scheduled to start being emptied Monday night.
During Tuesday's update Weber said because of wind conditions, ITC was unable to pump one of the remaining tanks that contained benzene.
When asked why the CEO and other executives of ITC haven't been seen or heard from since the fire broke out, Weber came to their defense.
"ITC will prevail through this," Weber said. "I am an executive of ITC as the incident commander. The CEO is heavily involved in this response, and his job is to support me as incident commander to ensure that I have every available resource I need to get ITC and the community and the federal government through this incident as quickly as possible."
Weber's comments echoed a previous statement from ITC public information officer Alice Richardson, who said that ITC executives were very involved with the recovery process.
"(They) are working very hard with this incident and they will guide us in the right direction and make sure that we have the resources to ensure that we get back to where we were."
Caren Damon, with the U.S. Coast Guard, said the ship channel remains closed to traffic and only a limited number of vessels are getting through as they work to contain the waste that leaked into the water.
Damon said the ship channel will not reopen until it is safe and no product can be detected in the water or on passing ships.
Adam Adams, with the Environmental Protection Agency, said there have been no significant changes since Monday.
There has been continuous air monitoring in the area, and no high levels of benzene or any other toxic gas have been detected in the area, Adams said.
Adams said the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has a fish advisory in place for the ship channel.
"I believe there are fish consumption advisories in place," Adams said. "They may have been in place prior to this incident, I don't have the start dates right now ... you shouldn't eat the fish."
The fire started Sunday, March 17, and spread throughout the facility, engulfing nine of the 15 tanks in the area. It was put out around 2 a.m. Wednesday.
Nearly 12 hours later, the fire reignited, sending a fireball into the air. Crews were able to put the fire out quickly, but the incident was far from over.
After the initial fire started, schools closed and residents were ordered to shelter in place. While the order was lifted and classes resumed Tuesday, the break was short-lived.
On Thursday, after the fire had been out and crews had started pumping the chemicals out of the remaining tanks, benzene – a known carcinogen – was detected in the air, prompting more school closures and another shelter-in-place order.
Though the shelter-in-place order was lifted, schools remained closed for the rest of the week.
On Friday, just as ITC officials were starting to seem hopeful the situation was going in the right direction, the facility suffered a break in a dike wall near the incinerated tanks.
Hours after the break, two tanks and chemical runoff in a ditch caught fire, sending yet another plume of smoke over the Deer Park area.
On Saturday, reports of several toxins found in the water near ITC prompted officials to close the ship channel.
The Coast Guard deployed a total of 8,500 feet of boom to try to trap as much of the chemical waste as possible, but some chemicals still made it into the ship channel’s waters.
On Sunday, the Coast Guard tripled the length of booms, totaling 27,000 feet, hoping to contain more of the toxins that had been released into the Houston Shop Channel.
As of Tuesday, the Houston Ship Channel was still not fully open.
All nearby districts have resumed their normal class schedule.
Check out the timeline of events below:
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