March 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard temporarily opened part of the waterway affected by a suburban plant fire last week that spilled chemicals into the Houston Ship Channel.
The Intercontinental Terminal Co. said the Coast Guard opened the San Jacinto River to vessel traffic through the ship channel for two hours Sunday evening and again Monday morning.
The Houston Ship Channel remains closed to traffic from Tucker's Bayou and HSC Light 116 and closed for cargo operations from HSC Light 139 to HSC Light 129.
"There are currently 34 vessels, including 15 skimmers, on scene conducting operations," the company said. "An additional seven skimmers and 12 vessels are scheduled to arrive on the scene to support assessment, protection, and recovery operations."
A wall collapse and fire at the company Friday sparked a second fire. A benzene cloud rose above the shipping channel, forcing the U.S. Coast Guard to stop ship travel on the waterway, a key commercial transportation route along the Gulf Coast.
The chemical storage plant burned for four days last week, spilling gasoline ingredients into the waterway while spewing thick black smoke into the air before it was extinguished early Wednesday.
The initial fire burned seven tanks of petrochemicals and gave off thick, black smoke into the air surrounding the Deer Park, Texas area, about 15 miles east of downtown Houston.
"It is catastrophic; I've never seen anything like this," attorney Benny Agosto told KTRK-TV Sunday, holding a bag of ash from a client that rained down from the sky during the fire.
"There's been very large explosions and seriously injured folks and even a community affected by natural storms, gases, what we have not seen is the ramification, how far it's going," he added.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, surveyed the area with the Coast Guard on Sunday.
"This is going to take a long, long, long time to really feel comfortable and get the community comfortable that we're at a level of safety and security," Lee said, fearing that contamination of the waterway as well as the air.