Two dead, hundreds of homes damaged after massive liquid nitrogen explosion in Houston

Damage spread over half-mile debris field

Two people were killed early Friday morning and another person is missing after a liquid nitrogen explosion at a Houston, Texas, manufacturing plant.

The Houston Fire Department said one person was taken to a hospital because of the blast and a fire burned at the site hours after the explosion, according to Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. About 200 homes near the blast site were damaged.

The explosion happened at the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing Co. on Gesser Road in Houston.

People whose homes were damaged are being sheltered at a nearby Church of the Latter Day Saints.

No evacuations were ordered, according to Acevedo, who later said the explosion was being investigated by his department’s homicide division. Agents from the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were assisting in the investigation.

The explosion happened around 4:25 a.m.

The debris field from the explosion is reported to extend a half mile outward. Acevedo is advising people to avoid breathing around the area out of “abundance of caution.”

According to its website, Watson Grinding and Manufacturing is a machining and manufacturing company.

Firefighters were seen walking door to door in a neighborhood next to the blast site.

Several nearby homes reported damages to local reporters on the scene. Mark Brady, who lives near the blast site, told Houston TV station KPRC the explosion “knocked us all out of bed.”

“It busted out every window in our house,” he said. “It busted everybody’s garage door in around here … and closer toward the explosion over here, it busted people’s roofs in and walls in."

Acevedo asked residents who live nearby to search their homes and neighborhoods for any debris — including body parts — and to contact police if they find anything that could aid in the investigation.

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena said hazardous materials crews have secured the valve on a 2,000-gallon tank of propylene that had been leaking. Propylene is a colorless gas used to produce chemicals in plastics, synthetic rubber and gasoline. It is highly flammable and can explode in a fire.

People exposed to propylene can become dizzy and light-headed, and the gas can also cause liver damage.

Nearby homes sustained significant damage. Some were knocked off their foundations.

Danny Wilson, 63, who lives less than a mile from the site, said he was sleeping when his wife woke him up.

“She heard a big noise and the (grandkids) were running out of their rooms,” Wilson said. “She said it was some kind of explosion or somebody was trying to get in.”

Wilson said he first checked inside his home to make sure nobody had broken in and then he went outside and talked to neighbors to find out what was going on and to check for any damage.

“I didn’t notice any broken glass and I looked at the back window and it was shattered big time,” Wilson said.

He said the blast also broke glass on part of his front windows. “Everybody seems to be OK now. That’s the main thing,” Wilson said.

Southeast Texas has seen a series of explosions in recent years up and down the Texas Gulf Coast, which is home to the highest concentration of oil refineries in the nation. Last July, an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown left more than dozen people with minor injuries and put nearby residents under a shelter-in-place advisory for three hours.

In December, two blasts in the coastal city of Port Neches shattered windows and ripped the doors from nearby homes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.