Chemical fire billows in Hurricane Laura’s wake

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LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — A fire at a Louisiana chlorine plant erupted with thick, billowing smoke Thursday after Hurricane Laura plowed through part of the country’s petrochemical corridor with storm surges and fierce wind, forcing residents around the plant to shelter in their homes.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality workers with hand-held monitors did not immediately detect chlorine releases from the fire at the BioLab plant, which makes swimming pool chemicals, agency spokesman Greg Langley said.

Authorities ordered people around the plant in the heavily industrialized Lake Charles area to stay in their homes after the blaze was discovered at daylight, after the storm pushed through. The state Department of Transportation closed Interstate 10 in the area, diverting traffic.

The fire sent black smoke billowing high above an interstate overpass. Officials told people nearby to stay indoors, with windows and doors shut.

State police, firefighters and other emergency workers were responding, and an Environmental Protection Agency plane was monitoring overhead, Langley said.

Storm damage meant crews had difficulty clearing downed utility equipment and trees and other wreckage to reach the site.

“Finding a way into it was a bit of a challenge, but they got there,” Langley said.

When cleared by aviation officials, state environmental officials will fly over the storm area to look for signs of any other industry fires or leaks, he said.

“We’ll be doing flyovers, looking for sheens on the water, any little thing we can see — orphan drums, things like that.”

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