Orange County Judge John Gothia was live on KOGT Wednesday afternoon and said no one in Orange County lives within the four-mile radius of a mandatory evacuation order issued by Jefferson County for people near the TPC plant in Port Neches.
The order was issued after a second explosion at the petrochemical plant, which has been on fire since 1 a.m. when the first blast shook the region.
Gothia, Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt, Emergency Management Director Joel Ardoin, and county commissioners met Wednesday afternoon to determine if any evacuation order needed to be issued here.
He said they studied everything within the four-mile radius. “We actually went five miles to be safe,” he said. The only part of Orange County falling within the radius is the uninhabited Bessie Heights Marsh.
The Jefferson County evacuation order includes Port Neches, Nederland, Groves, and north Port Arthur. Traffic into Orange County was heavy after the evacation order came as people left their homes and businesses. The American Red Cross set up a shelter at Ford Park Arena.
The first explosion at the TPC plant was at 1 a.m. Wednesday. The shock could be felt miles away and jolted people awake in Orange County as their houses shook. Gothia said “a very few houses” in the Bessie Marsh area of Bridge City had damage like broken windows and vinyl siding coming loose.
Gothia, who lives in Bridge City, said the explosion woke him up. He soon issued a shelter in place order for Orange County residents. He said the wind was blowing the smoke and debris from Port Neches into Orange County.
Shelter in place means to stay inside and turn off air conditioning to stop outside air from coming inside. The judge said he kept in touch with the National Weather Service for wind directions. Between 4 and 5 a.m., a cold front that was forecast came through and blew the wind began blowing from the north. He then lifted the shelter in place order.
As the fire continued to burn, Gothia said the county emergency team will monitor winds to see if another shelter order is needed. The wind could also shift and of course there’s no way of knowing when the fire will finally be put out.
People can get emergency notices by registering with STAN, Southeast Texas Alerting Network. The system will send emergency notices to people by phone, text, or email. Registering can be made through the STAN website or through 1-844-578-7826.
Gothia also recommended monitoring news sources like KOGT radio, KOGT.com, or the KOGT Facebook page. The county’s Emergency Management also has a Facebook page.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-