MONT BELVIEU, Texas – One worker remained missing Wednesday morning after several explosions at a Mont Belvieu plant were followed by flames that could be seen all the way to downtown Houston.
Family members identified the missing contract employee as Ricky Shaw.
His sister-in-law said that co-workers last saw him running away from the flames shortly after the explosions. He hasn’t been seen since, and no one has answered his cell phone, his family said.
Officials also confirmed that Shaw was at the site of the fire.
A spokesman for Enterprise Products, the company that owns the plant, said the search resumed Wednesday.
Rick Rainey said crews managed to cut off the source of fuel that was feeding the blaze and, except for a couple of hot spots, the fire was basically extinguished.
Rainey told The Associated Press that the storage area was closed and damage would be assessed.
Rainey said the cause of Tuesday’s accident is still under investigation, but possible pipeline failure will be considered. Rainey earlier said workers heard a hissing sound before the blast.
The fire broke out Tuesday afternoon at Enterprise Products, located at 135 Sun Oil Road. Witnesses reported seeing workers fleeing from the Chambers County plant around 12:25 p.m. Other workers were told to stay inside.
"It sounded like a tornado, roaring, roaring, roaring," said witness Bennie Holmes. "And the flames went high, high, high. From my vantage point, I could actually feel some of the heat."
Several trucks melted when flames spread to nearby vehicles and at least one building.
"My ex-husband called my kids and told them that him and his crew got out by the skin [of] their teeth," Robin posted on the 11 News Facebook page. "But his truck was right there as the tank blew!"
Chambers County emergency officials said there was no known threat to the public and evacuations weren’t necessary. A shelter-in-place advisory was issued as a precaution by Barbers Hill ISD for schools a few miles away, but schools let out at the normal time.
State Highway 146 was closed near the plant.
The mid-day explosion burst open a line carrying mostly butane. It happened in a pipeline leading to the company’s west storage facility.
The plant’s command center noticed some sort of "abnormality" shortly before the explosion and had begun shutting down parts of the plant to try to figure out the problem. During that process, the explosion happened.
"My windows began to shake," said Duane Cunningham, who lives about five miles away.
The explosions were felt as far away as Anahuac and Crosby, according to 11 News Facebook readers.
"I live in Crosby and it rattled my windows in my house," said Lisa on the 11 News Facebook page. "It kinda sounded like a big gust of wind but I went outside and the wind was not blowing that hard so I knew it had to be something going on. By the time I got back inside, it was on the News."
A Houston caller named Pat Headen said she was talking to her cousin inside the plant when the first set of explosions happened. There were three more explosions while they were still on the phone. There were "anywhere from eight to 11 explosions," Headen said.
Roy Whitaker, a retired chemical worker who’s lived in Mont Belvieu for 30 years, also heard the booms. But he wasn’t fazed. He kept doing yard work.
"My husband works there and said they’re in the main admin building and that area is safe," Julie posted on the 11 News Facebook page "But prayers are never a bad thing!"
Enterprise owns more than 49,000 miles of natural gas, crude and petrochemical pipelines, according to its website. The founders of Enterprise include late Houston philanthropist Dan Duncan, who passed away last year.