Seven sheriff's deputies and medical emergency responders who say they were sickened by a chemical fire at a plant outside Houston that flooded during Harvey sued the owner Thursday for gross negligence, seeking $1 million in damages, the AP reports. A state judge granted a temporary restraining order to prevent plant owner Arkema Inc. from removing evidence or altering the scene, says Kimberly Spurlock, the attorney for the plaintiffs. A hearing has been set for Sept. 22. The suit alleges Arkema failed to properly store the estimated 18 tons of chemicals that burned or prepare for a major flood even though it was a foreseeable event.
Record rains from Harvey flooded the plant 25 miles northeast of Houston with six feet of water, according to a report Arkema filed with the state. The storm knocked out power and therefore the refrigeration needed to keep the chemicals stable. The chemical compounds—organic peroxides used to make a gamut of products from plastics to paints—became unstable and exploded in flames more than 30 feet high early on Aug. 31, spewing an acrid plume of black smoke. "They weren't told to wear masks," says Spurlock. The suit says workers doubled over vomiting, gasped for air, and "began to fall ill in the middle of the road." No one from Arkema warned of toxic fumes, it says, and when medical personnel arrived to help they were overcome "even before exiting their vehicle." (Read more Hurricane Harvey stories.)