HOUSTON — Houston police have opened a homicide investigation after at least two people were killed in a major plant explosion Friday morning in the Spring Branch area. The incident, which could be felt from miles away, resulted in several employee injuries and serious property damage throughout the surrounding neighborhood.
The explosion happened shortly after 4 a.m. at Watson Grinding & Manufacturing, Co. in the 4500 block of Gessner Road. The deceased victims' identities were not released and it's unclear whether they were employees or residents. At least two employees endured minor injuries and one employee remains unaccounted for, according to firefighters.
Houston firefighters have several small fires resulting from the explosion contained and the area remains blockaded as hazmat teams investigate. Police said there was major property damage to multiple homes and an adjacent shopping mall. So far, firefighters have inspected up to 180 properties in the area.
Air quality continues to be closely monitored in the neighborhood. Houston Firefighter Chief Samuel Pena confirmed the chemical polypropylene had been released into the air, but there is no evidence the product is dangerous.
"At this time, the members of the hazmat crew has gone in and they have secured the valving that was supplying the polypropylene that was leaking into the facility that was damaged. That has been secured."
The cause of the explosion remains unknown. Firefighters and police are working together to investigate possible arson.
“Right now what we’re recommending is stay away from this area,” Pena said. “If you don’t have to be here, don’t be driving around here. We have the areas closed."
The Houston Police Department has created a blockade from Gessner Road and Clay Road to Steffani and Genard Road. Due to limited access to the area, Bane Elementary School and Dean Middle School in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will be closed for the day. All other facilities will be open.
All Spring Branch ISD schools will remain open. As precaution, students and faculty will be kept inside.
"We anticipate transportation delays. We will keep all students inside as air quality in the area continues to be monitored. We will keep you informed as the situation continues to unfold. SBISD Police are monitoring guidance from HPD,” the district said in a statement.
No significant problems with air quality in the area surrounding the industrial site explosion in northwest part of the city, according to @FireChiefofHFD: Propylene dissipates into the air. Please avoid area due to traffic, debris, @HoustonFire response.
— City of Houston (@HoustonTX) January 24, 2020
Officers are securing an evacuation location for residents who may have had their home damaged. So far, Acevedo said police have done safety checks with residents at more than 300 homes. It's being strongly recommended residents shelter-in-place for the time being.
Residents who may have experienced property damage or have other concerns should visit The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 4703 Shadowdale Drive, police and other city officials can provide victim services and other resources.
Due to the massive explosion this morning and limited access to the area, @BaneElementary and @Dean_CFISD will be closed today to all students and staff. All other facilities will be open. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/gSrkLhhmgE
— Cypress-Fairbanks ISD (@CyFairISD) January 24, 2020
“It’s just a miracle that we don’t have any more fatalities or injuries out here,” Acevedo said.
“All SBISD facilities are fine as of this time. We plan for a regular day at all schools.