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Evacuations ordered after plant explosion in southeastern Texas

Evacuations were ordered for residents near a southeast Texas refinery after a chemical explosion set off a fire early Wednesday, officials said.

A blast just after 1 a.m. ignited a fire, which moved rapidly throughout the facility, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Crystal Holmes said.

Three workers at the site were injured and are being treated, according to TPC Group, which owns the site. The company’s website says it provides a range of products to chemical and petroleum-based companies. TPC said it had accounted for all site personnel and that they had been evacuated.

“The event is ongoing, but will be brought under control as quickly and safely as possible,” it said in a statement early Wednesday.

Neighbors within a half-mile of the plant were being evacuated. The explosion from the Port Neches plant, which produces chemical and petroleum-based products, blew out windows on homes several miles away, the Associated Press reported.

Residents began making initial reports of the blast on social media about 1:20 a.m.

Shawn Dunlap, who lives in Nederland, which is next to Port Neches, told NBC News that there were two explosions, and his friend’s apartment door was blown open and windows were shattered.

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“It shook our house twice,” Dunlap said. “It was just like a bomb going off.”

William Joshua Hranicky, 20, of Port Neches, said that he told his brother goodnight and looked out the back window and “saw just orange.”

He said he told his brothers to run as the back doors blew open from the blast.

Macy Malin, 22, who was staying with a friend down the street from the site said the explosion woke her up. Her friend’s family, she said, were yelling and she realized that their home had been severely damaged.

“Their doors were blown open … doorknobs themselves were shot across rooms,” she said.

Malin then hurried home to Mauriceville, Texas, some 34 miles from the explosion, where she said her father was even woken up by the blast.

To drive home, she said, she had to travel in heavy traffic past the plant and she was worried about what would happen if there was another explosion.

“We didn’t know what had exploded and what gasses were in the air,” she said. “I’ve never seen the traffic like that ever.”

Omar Hamza, a 22-year-old student at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas was at his family’s home in Port Neches with his 19-year-old brother when the explosion happened.

“I was packing my bag in the living room and I heard this pretty loud boom and I looked out and, right after, I saw this really bright flash of light coming towards the window and then everything just kind-of exploded,” he said.

“I grabbed my brother and we just kind of got down and waited for all the glass and stuff to stop falling.”

Hamza said he called the police who advised him to stay put inside the house but that he and his brother decided to leave.

“We waited for a little bit and we kind of looked outside and everyone was running around and freaking out,” he said. “So we just grabbed the important stuff we needed, I left a note on the door, and we left.”

People on social media posted videos and images appearing to show a large fireball. One person who said he lives nearby said the “shockwave” of the blast was felt.

On its website, the TPC Group said it employs more than 175 full-time employees and 50 contractors.

Port Neches and Groves are southeast of Beaumont and not far from the Louisiana state line.

Associated Press, Kurt Chirbas and Saphora Smith contributed.

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