DEER PARK — A week after the massive chemical fire that spewed toxic smoke over this Houston suburb had been extinguished in March 2019, Mario Ochoa cradled his 4-year-old son and prayed the child’s cough would ease so they could both sleep. Castiel kept waking Ochoa up with “horrible and terrifying” snoring.
“It was like watching your son drown right in front of you,” Ochoa said. “[He was] gasping for air in his sleep.”
A group of massive tanks, some containing millions of gallons of highly flammable chemicals used to make plastic and gasoline, had caught fire at a chemical storage facility owned by Intercontinental Terminals Company, a Texas-based company owned by Japanese conglomerate Mitsui Group. The fire began after a tank’s pump failed and began to leak naphtha, a highly flammable liquid.
As the fire at ITC spread from tank to tank, an ominous black plume of smoke spiraled over the Houston skyline. Ten of the tanks — each big enough to hold more than 3 million gallons of chemicals — collapsed, sending chemicals gushing into the nearby ship channel and killing birds and fish. Ash rained down on nearby neighborhoods.