Explosions at Chemical Plant Following Hurricane Harvey Highlight the Need to Step Up NATECH Prevention

A series of explosions at a chemical plant in Texas following severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey highlight the risk of extreme weather-related industrial accidents and the urgent need to strengthen efforts for prevention and preparedness, says the UN.

The explosions, which were caused by the loss of refrigeration to a warehouse storing highly volatile and extremely flammable chemicals, are an example of a Natural-hazard triggered technological accident, or “NATECH”.

Coast Guard aircrews conduct flyovers to assess the ports of Houston, Texas City, Freeport and Galveston, Aug. 31, 2017. These port assessments are conducted in order to identify any damaged Coast Guard regulated port facility, potential oil spills or chemical release and any navigational obstruction along the ports. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Kelley/Released)

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe said that the increasing frequency and severity of climate change-related extreme weather events underlines the vital importance of reinforcing measures worldwide to prevent future accidents, and ensuring better preparedness to respond in a safe and timely manner should they occur.

In terms of prevention, this means identifying risks for different accident scenarios, facilitating their evaluation and integration into the procedures for the safe management of industrial plants, and ensuring appropriate land-use planning. It is also crucial to enhance preparedness through emergency exercises and effective contingency plans – both on- and off-site – with full cooperation between industry and public authorities, including across national borders.

This most recent example could inspire the critical evaluation and reassessment of the location of industrial facilities in areas at risk from extreme weather events such as floods and other disasters including earthquakes and tsunamis.

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

The need to further improve prevention and preparedness is in line with the priorities set out in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted by UN Member States in March 2015. An important feature of this is strengthening disaster risk governance at the national and transboundary levels.

This is also the focus of ongoing cooperation between OECD, UNECE and other partners, to strengthen knowledge and capacity on prevention and preparedness for NATECH incidents.

UNECE is committed to working with all countries and stakeholders to prevent and prepare for industrial accidents, including those caused by natural disasters, through its Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents.

Source: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Flood Summary

Last updated: September 6, 2017
Event
Hurricane Harvey, USA, August 2017
Date
August 26, 2017
Type
Urban flood, River flood, Storm surge
Cause
Storm surge, Extreme rainfall

Locations

A - Cypress
B - Spring
C - Katy
D - Barker Dam
E - Addicks Dam
F - Alvin
G - Atascocita
H - South Houston
I - Houston
J - Mont Belvieu
K - Clear Creek Village
L - Baytown
M - Rockport
N - Port Arthur
O - Beaumont
P - Lake Charles, Louisiana

Magnitude

Rainfall level
680 mm in 24 hours
Pearland, Brazoria County - August 26 to August 27, 2017
Rainfall level
584 mm in 24 hours
Alvin, Brazoria County - August 26 to August 27, 2017
Rainfall level
697.23 mm in 24 hours
Dayton, Liberty County - August 26 to August 27, 2017
Rainfall level
558 mm in 24 hours
South Houston - August 26 to August 27, 2017
Rainfall level
622.3 mm in 24 hours
Santa Fe, Galveston County - August 26 to August 27, 2017
Rainfall level
511 mm in 24 hours
Mount Houston - August 26 to August 27, 2017
Rainfall level
604 mm in 24 hours
Bacliff, Galveston County - August 26 to August 27, 2017
River level
12.04 metres
Greens Bayou at Houston - August 28 to August 28, 2017
level as of 28 August: 39.51 feet / Previous record: 39.4 feet
River level
39.05 metres
Cypress Creek near Cypress - August 28 to August 28, 2017
level as of 28 August: 128.11 feet / Previous record: 127.6 feet
River level
29.27 metres
Cypress Creek near Westfield - August 28 to August 28, 2017
level as of 28 August: 96.06 feet / Previous record: 94.3 feet
River level
11.04 metres
Navidad River at Sublime - August 28 to August 28, 2017
level as of 28 August: 36.23 feet / Previous record: 34 feet
River level
8.97 metres
Navidad River near Speaks - August 28 to August 28, 2017
level as of 28 August: 29.44 feet / Previous record: 28.2 feet
River level
20.56 metres
Buffalo Bayou at Piney Point Village - August 28 to August 28, 2017
level as of 28 August: 67.46 feet / Previous record: 61.23 feet

Damages

Evacuated
35,000
August 26 to August 31, 2017
35,000 people were evacuated and staying in over 200 shelters. According to media reports, over 1 million people were displaced overall: in Texas: 779,000 mandatory evacuations; 980,000 voluntary evacuations. In Louisiana: 7,000 mandatory evacuations; 133,000 voluntary evacuations (source: Reuters)
Fatalities
44 people
August 26 to August 31, 2017
According to media reports
Buildings destroyed
7,000
August 26 to August 31, 2017