USCG assessing local chemical facilities ahead of Hurricane Irma - FOX10 News | WALA

USCG assessing local chemical facilities ahead of Hurricane Irma landfall

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MOBILE, AL (WALA) -

With the active hurricane season, FOX10 News Investigates took a closer look at the possibility of the chemical facilities in our area being impacted by potential hurricanes... and how that could put people's safety at risk. 

While it seems Irma may be going to the Florida peninsula, the commander for the U.S. Coast Guard's (USCG) Mobile Sector told FOX10 News Investigates his teams have been going around to several chemical facilities from Panama City Beach to Bayou la Batre, to assess their ability to handle a major hurricane, just in case.

After Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Texas coast, huge fires broke out at a chemical plant northeast of Houston, when the facility was forced to shut down operations, and officials said units refrigerating the toxic chemicals were "compromised due to massive flooding."

Fifteen deputies were taken to the hospital for inhaling volatile chemical smoke, and a mandatory evacuation was put in place for all residents living with in a mile and a half of the facility. 

Along the Mobile River, there are eight petrochemical storage facilities operating in close proximity to the downtown and Africatown communities. 

FOX10 News Investigates asked USCG Sector Mobile Commander Rob McLellan if he anticipates seeing any similar problems locally if a similar storm were to hit the Alabama coast.

"Harvey itself was unprecedented, for a storm to sit like it did, and produce that much rain, it's really hard to plan for something like that," McLellan responded. "But in that case, there are measures facilities take to make sure their tanks don't float away, no matter how much rain we get. The things that happened at Arkema, there were a whole lot of other facility issues that led to that catastrophe."

Government records showed the USCG is required to maintain a hurricane contingency plan with port facilities.

McLellan said those plans are in play in preparation for Hurricane Irma. 

"We look for derelict or vessels that are unmanned so to speak, that are just sitting there," said McLellan, "and, these facilities are probably one of our most regulated entities in the port. So, as such, they are very safe."

It's not just fires these petrochemical companies have to worry about, it's also spills. 

Officials said in 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita combined caused more than 110,000 gallons of oil to be spilled in coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana.

McLellan reassured FOX10 News Investigates it also keeps an eye out for those issues as well. 

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