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Massive fire at Houston petrochemical storage terminal may last two more days

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A massive fire at a fuels storage company along the Houston Ship Channel may burn for two more days, an official said on Monday as the blaze spread a plume of black smoke across the city, shutting schools in two nearby communities.

The fire began Sunday morning in a giant storage tank containing naphtha, a volatile substance used to create octane-boosting components of gasoline.

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No injuries were reported from the fire but nearby residents were encouraged to remain indoors. The entire city of Deer Park, Texas, a Houston suburb, was told to shelter in doors all day Sunday. The order was lifted Monday.

“It’s going to be probably two days,” said Ray Russell, communications officer for Channel Industries Mutual Aid, which coordinates firefighting departments from ship channel plants.

“It’s going to have to burn out at the tank,” Russell told reporters at a mid-morning news conference.

No employees at the facility were missing and no injuries were reported, Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) the operator of the storage facility, said in a statement. The risk of explosion was “minimal” but ITC was attempting to drain naphtha from one of the burning tanks, it said.

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Regular gasoline for prompt delivery on Colonial Pipeline traded at a discount of 4.50 cents a barrel to the futures contract on Monday, up a quarter-cent from Friday.

A leak in the naphtha storage tank ignited and flames spread to nearby tanks overnight, ITC reported to a Texas regulator on Monday. Its report did not say what caused the leak to catch fire.

School officials in Deer Park, population 32,000, and nearby La Porte, Texas, with about 34,000 residents, suspended classes and told employees not to report to work on Monday.

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Seven tanks containing naphtha and xylene, petrochemicals used to make gasoline and base oils commonly used as machine lubricants, were burning, ITC officials said. On Monday, a tank containing Toluene also caught fire. Toluene is used to manufacture nail polish remover and paint thinner.

The burning tanks are surrounded by other storage tanks within a spill containment dike. Firefighters used a foam fire retardant on nearby tanks to try to limit the fire from spreading.

Ships continued to cross the 50-mile-long channel, which is part of the Port of Houston linking refineries and chemical plants in Houston and Texas City, with the Gulf of Mexico.

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“There has been no affect on vessel traffic other than at the two terminals,” said J.J. Plunkett, port agent at the Houston Pilots, whose members guide ships in and out of the channel. Ship access to docks at the ITC and Vopak terminals was restricted by the U.S. Coast Guard, he said.

Air emissions tests detected the presence of a volatile organic compound six miles away from the facility. Levels were below those considered hazardous, ITC said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and state and local authorities were responding to the blaze, ITC said.

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The fire was not affecting operations at the nearby Royal Dutch Shell Plc joint-venture refinery in Deer Park, said Shell spokesman Ray Fisher.

Reporting by Erwin Seba; Additional reporting by Rich McKay and Gary McWilliams; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jeffrey Benkoe


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Vote-splitting fears raised in final days of Canada election

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In the dying days of what Justin Trudeau described as one of the "nastiest" election campaigns in Canadian history -- with plenty of mudslinging, attack ads and misinformation -- he played up fears on Thursday of vote-splitting handing victory to his rival Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives.

Policy announcements gave way to calls to vote strategically to keep Trudeau's Liberals in power and prevent a rollback of his progressive policies by the Tories.

Pollsters predict a minority government -- either Liberal or Conservative -- resulting from the October 21 ballot.

Attack ads accused Liberals of seeking to legalize hard drugs and the Tories of allowing assault rifles on Canadian streets -- claims that are flat out wrong or exaggerated, respectively.

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Japan emperor to proclaim enthronement in ritual-bound ceremony

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Japan's new Emperor Naruhito will formally proclaim his ascension to the throne next week in a ritual-bound ceremony, but the after-effects of deadly typhoon will cast a shadow over proceedings.

Naruhito officially assumed his duties as emperor on May 1, a day after his father became the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in 200 years.

But the transition will not be complete until his new role is officially proclaimed on Tuesday, in a series of events expected to be attended by foreign dignitaries from nearly 200 countries.

The event will come just over a week after Typhoon Hagibis slammed into Japan, killing nearly 80 people and leaving a trail of destruction.

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US imposes tariffs on EU goods, targeting Airbus, wine and whisky

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The United States imposed tariffs on a record $7.5-billion worth of European Union goods on Friday, despite threats of retaliation, with Airbus, French wine and Scottish whiskies among the high-profile targets.

The tariffs, which took effect just after midnight in Washington (0401 GMT), came after talks between European officials and US trade representatives failed to win a last-minute reprieve.

The WTO-endorsed onslaught from US President Donald Trump also comes as Washington is mired in a trade war with China and could risk destabilising the global economy further.

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