Four people were injured in an explosion and fire at the Chemours plant in Belle late Tuesday night, prompting an hourslong shelter-in-place for the areas surrounding the plant, which is just off U.S. 60 in Eastern Kanawha County.
The explosion occurred at 10:02 p.m. according to the Kanawha County Commission. Belle Mayor David Fletcher said the fire was "pretty much out" just after midnight. Fletcher said emergency crews were monitoring the plant and waiting for the OK from plant inspectors.
Three people were taken to Charleston Area Medical Center and the other person drove themselves to Montgomery General, according to Kanawha Commission President Kent Carper. The extent of their injuries was not known.
Carper said the incident involved chlorinated dry bleach and methanol, the latter of which was "most likely" the origin of the explosion and acted as an accelerant for the flames.
"It's a very bad explosion and working fire and we're ordering a shelter-in-place in that area," Carper said. "It is an evolving situation."
The shelter-in-place was issued for areas within a 2-mile radius of the plant, including everyone between the Chelyan bridge to Burning Springs and all of Belle, Marmet, Chesapeake and Chelyan.
As of 2:25 a.m., the shelter-in-place was lifted. Emergency responders evaluated the scene and determined an "all clear" could be issued for the incident, according to a statement from the Kanawha County Commission.
The shelter-in-place was in effect for several hours overnight.
"We’re cognizant of the fact that we've got a great impact on safety with the traffic. We're cognizant that it's cold outside, and shelter-in-place means you shouldn't run your heater, but ... our joint concern is to make sure there's no further incident," Carper said. "The last thing you want is to let people go back and have another incident. We need to make certain that the public is safe before we lift [the shelter-in-place order]."
It was believed there were multiple explosions, with some reports citing three, Carper said.
Kanawha County Homeland Security and Emergency Management and local volunteer fire departments responded to the scene.
U.S. 60 was closed at Campbells Creek Drive and Witcher Creek Road during the shelter-in-place with State Police and the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office diverting traffic.
Some debris from the explosion was found on U.S. 60, Fletcher said, and Marmet Mayor Jay Snodgrass said some debris was blown across the river.
Snodgrass, 56, has lived in Eastern Kanawha County his whole life and relatives who retired from the Belle plant. The explosion Tuesday night shook his house like never before.
"It was the loudest explosion I've ever felt — not just heard, felt," Snodgrass said. "It jolted my body. It felt like it was next door, then we saw the smoke plume across the river. I've never experienced anything like this, to this magnitude."
All Riverside High attendance area schools will be closed Wednesday to students and staff due to the explosion, Kanawha County's school system announced. Students were told to log on for online learning Wednesday.
The Chemours Company’s plant sits on a 723-acre property along West Dupont Avenue in Belle.
The industrial organic chemical plant’s top pollutants by pound for 2020 were chloride and total suspended solids, and its top pollutants by toxic-weighted pounds were aluminum and iron. Plant activities include biological treatment, sludge treatment and/or dewatering, thermal treatment and stripping.
Chemours, which is based in Wilmington, Delaware, was founded as a spinoff from DuPont in 2015. Ownership of the Belle plant site was transferred to Chemours that year.