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Port Neches Residents Struggle to Rebuild One Year After TPC Chemical Plant Explosion


One year after a massive explosion rocked the TPC chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas, residents of the surrounding community are still struggling to rebuild their homes and lives.

“I knew that the one-year anniversary was coming up, but I was just trying to forget that it ever happened,” Port Neches resident Brian Kessel recently told 12NewsNow.

Kessel lives in a townhome about one block from the TPC facility. A year later, his windows remain covered in plywood and spray-painted with the message, “Thank you, TPC.”

“It’s my way of saying thank you for messing up my life, TPC,” Kessel said.

60,000 Residents Forced to Evacuate After TPC Explosion

The TPC Port Neches explosion erupted shortly after 1:00 a.m. on November 27, 2019. In addition to injuring three plant employees, the disaster caused widespread damage throughout the surrounding community, forcing more than 60,000 residents of Port Neches, Groves, Nederland, Central Gardens, Beauxart Gardens, and parts of Port Arthur to evacuate through Thanksgiving Day.

According to investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the sequence of events that led up to the explosion began when 60,000 gallons of liquid vapor – mostly highly flammable butadiene – escaped from a processing tower. The vapor ignited about two minutes later, sparking a fire that would burn for days and destroy much of the facility.

A section of piping apparently became locked by a build-up of material known as popcorn polymer nearly three months earlier. That obstruction likely caused the pipe to rupture, resulting in the vapor release. According to the Board’s most recent factual update, popcorn polymer had been an issue at the TPC Port Neches plant since at least July 2019.

Inspectors with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration eventually faulted the TPC Group for failing to provide updated instructions on how to shut down affected equipment, neglecting to fix deficient equipment that could have caused the explosion or alerted workers to a problem, and failing to use proper procedures on a pipeline design known to cause issues when using butadiene. The company was fined $134,937 – the maximum possible – for each of the three willful violations, bringing total penalties to $514,692.

Some Port Neches Residents Continue to Wait for Repairs

While the evacuation order was lifted the day after Thanksgiving, some Port Neches residents have yet to return to their homes. For example, Susan Miguez and her husband spent this holiday in an RV parked behind their house. A year later, they’re still working with TPC to try to fix the structural damage that has forced them out.

“It’s always been in the back of our mind,” she told the Beaumont Enterprise. “We’ve been talking about how the date is coming up. It was just such a blast. I really thought that we were being bombed.”

A native of the area, Miguez has seen her share of flares emanating from the industrial plants around her home. But since the TPC explosion, what was once routine is now a source of anxiety.

“Some days, you go about your business and not think a lot about it at all, but I get freaked out when I see the big flares,” she noted. “I can’t help but wonder if they are going to keep getting bigger.”

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