By Gary McWilliams HOUSTON, March 22 (Reuters) – A petrochemical fire re-ignited Friday afternoon at a fuel storage facility outside Houston, adding to the danger from a containment wall breach earlier in the day that spilled chemicals and halted ship traffic in the nation’s busiest oil port.
Smoke filled the sky over Mitsui & Co.’s Intercontinental Terminals facility in Deer Park, Texas, after fuels at the site ignited about 3:40 p.m. (2040 GMT). The fire and chemicals leak prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to halt vessel traffic from the ITC site near Tucker Bayou to Crystal Bay, near the mouth of the channel.
The fire erupted on the West side of the facility among tanks damaged during a fire that began Sunday and was initially extinguished early Wednesday. The tanks, which can hold up to 3.3 million gallons each, held fuels used to make gasoline and plastics.
There were no injuries reported from the fire, a spokesman for Intercontinental Terminals said.
There were about 100 workers at the site on Friday, pumping chemicals from damaged tanks and trying to close a breach in the six-foot-tall containment wall surrounding the site. A portion of the wall suffered a collapse earlier in the day.
The chemicals leak prompted the facility to call for a shelter-in-place order for the local area for the third time this week.
The U.S. Coast Guard halted ship traffic along most of the Houston Ship Channel, creating a bottleneck of vessels looking to enter or leave terminals on a key industrial waterway that connects Houston to the Gulf of Mexico.
Movement was initially halted between Tucker Bayou and Ship Channel light 116, said Coast Guard Vessel Tracking Service Watch Supervisor Derby Flory, and expanded to Crystal Bay later in the day.
The breach occurred as emergency workers were pumping pyrolysis gasoline from one of the 11 tanks destroyed or damaged during a fire that started Sunday and took more than three days to extinguish.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said containment booms were placed in waterways to halt flows into the Ship Channel. The Coast Guard was skimming and pumping contaminated runoff into storage containers, the regulator said.
ITC and emergency officials were working on a plan to stop the flow of chemicals, water and foam into surrounding areas when the fire erupted, ITC spokesman Dale Samuelsen said.
Samuelsen could not say how much chemicals and water were leaking from the breach. The barrier held back water, chemicals and foam from an area where firefighters poured up to 20,000 gallons (75,700 liters) of water and foam a minute during the three-day blaze that destroyed the huge tanks. (Reporting by Gary McWilliams and Collin Eaton; editing by Marguerita Choy and James Dalgleish)
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