More than 50,000 people in Port Neches, Texas, and surrounding towns spent Thanksgiving away from home after officials decided not to lift a mandatory evacuation order. The order was put in place after an explosion early Wednesday at the Texas Petroleum Chemical plant around 80 miles east of Houston was followed by another massive explosion later in the day. Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick, who issued the evacuation order for people in a 4-mile radius of the plant, said Thursday that firefighters have contained a blaze at the site but he was not convinced it was safe for residents to return, CNN reports. Water cannons are being used to keep chemical storage tanks cool and prevent more explosions.
Branick says he lives near the plant and the first blast blew in his front and back doors. Officials say the blast occurred in an area of the plant that makes the chemical butadiene, a known carcinogen, but there has not been widespread contamination. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Adam Adams says volatile organic compounds have been detected by teams monitoring air pollution, but not above the five parts per million "action level," the AP reports. Branick says officials will meet early Friday to discuss lifting the evacuation order, the Houston Chronicle reports. "First and foremost, my job as county judge is to keep our citizens safe," he says. "I will not lift the evacuation order until such time that I feel it is sufficiently safe to return." (Read more Texas stories.)