A railcar containing ammonia and two other chemicals exploded Friday morning at a BASF chemical plant in Freeport, TX, Four employees who received only minor injuries, reportedly were the only casualties. The explosion, which rocked homes and businesses as far away as 50 miles, shut down nearby highways, and area schools and residents were ordered to remain inside because of possible gas clouds.

All of the 500-acre plant along the Texas coast had been evacuated by mid-morning of non-essential workers, and a BASF spokeswoman reported that all of the essential employees were remaining indoors at the facility. All of the 800 employees and contractors were accounted for.

An area resident told a Houston TV station that “it just sounded like the city blew up.” At the Freeport municipal offices, Mayor James Barnett said the lights had flickered at city hall, but he said he did not have any additional information. The plant was not accepting calls, but a recording said, “There has been an explosion at the BASF facility in Freeport, TX. Details are not available. We will provide further details as they become available.”

Other chemical and petrochemical facilities were also ordered to lock down by law enforcement because of possible ammonia clouds. Emergency officials were recording wind directions to see whether any residential areas could be affected. BASF, the largest chemical operation in Europe, is headquartered in Germany. It has 15,000 facilities in North America.

BASF officials reported that the railcar was carrying cyclohexanone oxime, which is used to manufacture nylon. According to a BASF timeline provided by officials, the following occurred:

The fire was contained to the plant, but emergency officials asked residents to take precautions, and issued a “shelter in place” order for neighborhoods and schools. No evacuations were reported, except for the plant’s workers, said BASF.

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