(Reuters) - More fires are expected at Arkema SA's (AKE.PA) flooded Texas chemical plant in the coming days even though floodwaters that triggered an initial blaze were receding as the remnants of Hurricane Harvey exited, company executives said on Friday.
Authorities have evacuated residents in a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) radius around the Arkema plant in Crosby, about 25 miles (40 km) northeast of Houston. Refrigeration for tanks of volatile organic peroxide were still without power a week after Harvey made landfall in Texas, raising fears of further explosions, they said.
"As we move through the next day or two, we would currently expect that some of these materials will catch fire. We can't tell you if it's next hour or if it's tomorrow," Daryl Roberts, vice president for manufacturing for the French-based company, said on a conference call.
The Arkema fire raised concerns about the threat posed by flooding to the hundreds of petrochemical plants on the Gulf Coast, the country's energy hub.
The federal Chemical Safety Board has launched an investigation into the Arkema incident and the Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the site for pollutants.
Richard Rennard, the head of an Arkema business unit, said a fire at one tank had burned itself out after giving off smoke that was visible for nine hours.
Smoke from the fire has sickened at least 15 law enforcement personnel. Rennard said it was not toxic but could cause nausea and drowsiness along with irritating the eyes and skin.
About 500,000 pounds (227,000 kg) of liquid organic peroxide had been on site and another eight tanks still remain. The chemical is used in such items as construction materials, pharmaceuticals and paint.
The Arkema plant had been under about 6 feet (1.83 m) of water but the flooding has begun to recede. Water damage made it unlikely that the refrigeration units could be restarted to prevent the tanks from leaking, Roberts said.
Rennard defended the company's safety performance, saying it was trying to recover from unprecedented rain that has devastated Texas.
"We're managing our way out of a crisis," Rennard said, adding that Arkema was sending a company team to Crosby to help local residents.
Shares of Arkema finished up 1.33 percent in Paris on Friday.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)