Police: 2 Dead After Warehouse Explosion Shakes Houston

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
January 24, 2020USshare
Police: 2 Dead After Warehouse Explosion Shakes Houston
This aerial photo taken from video provided by KTRK-TV shows damage to buildings after an explosion in Houston on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. (KTRK-TV via AP)

HOUSTON—Two people died after a massive explosion Friday leveled a warehouse in Houston, damaging nearby buildings and homes and rousing frightened people from their sleep miles away, authorities said.

The explosion happened about 4:30 a.m. inside a building at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, which makes valves and provides thermal-spray coatings for equipment in various industries, authorities said. The building was reduced to burning rubble and debris, and some of the surrounding buildings suffered heavy damage to parts of their walls and roofs.

Police Chief Art Acevedo confirmed the deaths Friday. He said authorities don’t believe the explosion was intentional though a criminal investigation is underway.

Acevedo asked residents who live nearby to search their homes and neighborhoods for any debris—including body parts—and to contact police if they find anything that could aid in the investigation.

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said hazardous materials crews have secured the valve on a 2,000-gallon (7,571-liter) tank of propylene that had been leaking. Propylene is a colorless gas used to produce chemicals in plastics, synthetic rubber and gasoline. It is highly flammable and can explode in a fire. People exposed to propylene can become dizzy and light-headed, and the gas can also cause liver damage.

Nearby homes sustained significant damage. Some were knocked off their foundations.

Houston explosion 3
Maria Hernandez and her son, Alejandro Ambriz, 10, stand by the kitchen where the ceiling collapsed in their home, just one street east where an explosion occurred on Jan. 24, 2020 in Houston.(Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Danny Wilson, 63, who lives less than a mile from the site, said he was sleeping when his wife woke him up.

“She heard a big noise and the (grandkids) were running out of their rooms,” Wilson said. “She said it was some kind of explosion or somebody was trying to get in.”

Wilson said he first checked inside his home to make sure nobody had broken in and then he went outside and talked to neighbors to find out what was going on and to check for any damage.

“I didn’t notice any broken glass and I looked at the back window and it was shattered big time,” Wilson said.

He said the blast also broke glass on part of his front windows.

“Everybody seems to be OK now. That’s the main thing,” Wilson said.

Mark Brady, who lives near the site, told TV station KPRC that the explosion “knocked us all out of bed.”

“It busted out every window in our house. It busted everybody’s garage door in around here … and closer toward the explosion over here, it busted people’s roofs in and walls in,” he said.

NTD Photo
Lee Brewer watches the news from his bedroom as the ceiling hangs after it was damaged by a massive explosion in west Houston on Jan. 24, 2020, in Houston. (Marie D. De Jesús/Houston Chronicle via AP)

The blast shook other buildings, with reports on Twitter of a boom felt across the city. Pena said there were no reports of hazardous air quality, based on monitoring done by a hazardous materials team.

A phone number for Watson Grinding was out of service when called by a reporter with The Associated Press on Friday morning. The family-owned business manufactures valves and provides thermal-spray coatings for equipment used in the chemical, mining, petroleum and aerospace industries, among others, according to its website.

Houston police tweeted that officers were blocking off streets, but no evacuation was ordered. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said first responders checked on residents of nearby homes.

Several people told TV station KHOU that the explosion was so loud, they thought a bomb had gone off or that a vehicle had crashed into their homes.

Southeast Texas has seen a series of explosions in recent years up and down the Texas Gulf Coast, which is home to the highest concentration of oil refineries in the nation. Last July, an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown left more than dozen people with minor injuries and put nearby residents under a shelter-in-place advisory for three hours.

In December, two blasts in the coastal city of Port Neches shattered windows and ripped the doors from nearby homes.

Plant Explosion
Residents observe the fire consuming the TPC Group plant in Port Neches, Texas, on Nov. 27, 2019. (Marie D. De Jesús/Houston Chronicle via AP)

By Juan A. Lozano

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