At least 2 people killed in massive industrial explosion in Houston

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Emergency personnel work the scene of the early morning explosion that Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said caused significant damage to nearby homes and even knocked some off their foundations.
Emergency personnel work the scene of the early morning explosion that Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said caused significant damage to nearby homes and even knocked some off their foundations.
Collin Eaton | Reuters

A massive industrial explosion in northwest Houston early Friday killed two people, left a business in ruins, knocked homes off their foundations and sent debris flying for about half a mile.

The pre-dawn blast at a building belonging to Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, which provides industrial services such as thermal spray coatings, could be felt more than 30 miles away, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference.

Acevedo said it's not clear whether the victims were employees. He said police have opened a criminal investigation into the incident, though they currently have no reason to think that the explosion was intentional.

Friday's incident is just the latest in a string of industrial explosions in Texas' Gulf Coast region, which houses numerous chemical facilities.

It's not yet clear what caused the explosion, which jolted the area at about 4:30 a.m. local time.

"[The explosion] knocked us all out of our bed, it was so strong," resident Mark Brady told Click2Houston. "It busted out every window in our house. 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 and we don't know what it is. ... It's a warzone over here."

One resident told the local news station that her roof of her home collapsed. "The whole house is ruined," she said. "The whole ceiling crashed down on all of us. We were all trapped in there and a nice family came and helped up out. ... It's just trashed."

The moment of the explosion was caught on video by a doorbell surveillance camera, which shows a bright ball of fire light up the sky.

Authorities were initially concerned because valves on propylene tanks at the site were releasing gas into the air, but Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said the leak has since been contained. A small, contained area at the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing site was still on fire, he said, adding that fire officials have decided to let it burn out on its own.

"This is going to be a long-term incident. We're going to be out here for several days," Peña said. He encouraged residents who find debris in their yards or on their roofs to call authorities.

Hazmat teams are doing air quality assessments, though Peña stated that "we have no reports of accumulation or hazards to the air quality."

Houston authorities were setting up an evacuation center for residents who need to leave their homes because of damage. Fire and police officials had initially recommended that families leave the area, though they later urged residents to shelter in place.

A local school district, Cypress-Fairbanks, said it was closing two schools near the blast site on Friday. Several school districts have said they plan to keep students indoors for the day. Nearby roads were being closed, and Acevedo said that would last into Saturday.

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