No timetable for reopening Texas ship channel following leak

The petrochemical fire at Intercontinental Terminals Company reignited as crews tried to clean out the chemicals that remained in the tanks, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas. The efforts to clean up a Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)
The petrochemical fire at Intercontinental Terminals Company reignited as crews tried to clean out the chemicals that remained in the tanks Friday, March 22, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas. The efforts to clean up a Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Intercontinental Terminals Company public information officer Alice Richardson reads a statement during a news conference Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Pasadena, Texas. The efforts to clean up the Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt answers a question about closing a portion of the Houston Ship Channel due to the fire and chemical spill at Intercontinental Terminals Company, during a news conference Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Pasadena, Texas. The efforts to clean up a Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Firefighters arrive at the site where the Intercontinental Terminals Company petrochemical fire reignited, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas. The efforts to clean up a Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Adam Adams, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, talks about continued air monitoring around the Intercontinental Terminals Company facility as crews continue to work to contain chemicals that remained in the burned tanks Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Pasadena, Texas. The efforts to clean up a Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Sarai Aranda hugs her son, who was part of the cleanup crew to empty out the remaining chemicals in the open tanks, as the Intercontinental Terminals Company petrochemical fire reignited, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas. The efforts to clean up a Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)
The petrochemical fire at Intercontinental Terminals Company reignited as crews tried to clean out the chemicals that remained in the tanks, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas. The efforts to clean up a Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Intercontinental Terminals Company incident commander Brent Weber answers a question about efforts to contain and clean out the chemicals that remained in burned out tanks Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Pasadena, Texas. The efforts to clean up the Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON — Officials have no timetable for reopening a portion of the Houston Ship Channel, one of the busiest commercial waterways in the country, after another setback caused flammable chemicals to seep into the water near a fire-ravaged petrochemical tank farm, a Coast Guard commander said Saturday.

Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt said during a news conference that work was underway to contain and absorb benzene and other contaminants after a dike failed adjacent to the farm operated by the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, southeast of Houston.

The breach occurred Friday. As of early Saturday, more than 40 vessels — oil tankers, container ships and other crafts — were either trying to move south out of the channel or north toward awaiting terminals, according to Coast Guard petty officer Kelly Parker. The channel is a critical waterway that connects oil refineries between the Port of Houston and the Gulf of Mexico.

ITC was planning Saturday to resume pumping some 20,000 barrels of product from a tank heavily damaged by the fire, which began Sunday, March 17, and was extinguished Wednesday, but flared again on two occasions. The most recent flare-up on Friday took an hour to suppress and disrupted the pumping, ITC executive Brent Weber said.

The tanks that caught fire contained components of gasoline and materials used in nail polish remover, glues and paint thinner.

Residents already alarmed by a large plume of black smoke that billowed for days from the farm were further shaken by an order Thursday to remain indoors after elevated levels of benzene were detected in the air. The chemical evaporates quickly and can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, and headaches, with worse symptoms at higher levels of exposure.

Deer Park Mayor Jerry Mouton Jr. has spent days giving assurances that company and public officials are working in a transparent manner to provide the latest updates to anxious residents.

"Everything doesn't always work the way it's planned," he told reporters Saturday.

"Everybody out here is doing the best they can," Mouton said, later adding, "They're trying to address every situation to the best of their ability."

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