Harris Co. Public Health officials respond after residents claim shelter-in-place order was late

Chaz Miller Image
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
West Harris County residents say shelter-in-place messaging was subpar
A resident said that she smelled ammonia at 10:30 p.m. Saturday evening before Harris County Public Health ordered the shelter-in-place at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- In a statement to ABC13 on Monday, Harris County Public Health said they took various factors into effect when issuing a shelter-in-place in West Harris County on Sunday.

The department said that the type of chemical, anhydrous ammonia, played a role in calling for shelter after a leak was reported at a 99 Cents Only Store distribution warehouse on the 23600 block of Colonial Parkway on Saturday evening.

Carol Gray of the nearby Memorial West subdivision, which was under the shelter order, said she first noticed the ammonia smell around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.

"I returned home from being out to dinner with girlfriends, and I let my dog out, and I smelled it," Gray said.

"I came inside, then got sick."

ORIGINAL REPORT: Shelter in place lifted after crews contain chemical leak at Katy warehouse, officials say

Here's a timeline of everything that transpired after crews were called to the leak at 8:42 p.m. on Saturday night.

Crews were pulled from the building due to safety concerns, and air monitoring began after officials said they noticed the ammonia coming out of the building at about 1 a.m.

The shelter-in-place was issued on Sunday at about 9 a.m. before being lifted at about 1 p.m.

WATCH: What is anhydrous ammonia? Experts explain

If you are experiencing burning, watery eyes, difficulty breathing, and irritation of the nose or throat, authorities urge you to seek immediate care. Ammonia is a clear gas with a strong odor. Officials said it can cause respiratory damage and is toxic.

The messaging of that order left a lot to be desired according to neighbors in the impacted radius.

"They could have put notices on our door or come knocking on the door," Jim Hernande said. "It's concerning."

ABC13 asked Harris County Public Health about their messaging, but that answer wasn't included in their statement.

In the meantime, Dr. Stephen Harding of Baylor College of Medicine said this was an excellent opportunity for officials to work on protocols.

"Houston is a city with a ton of manufacturing. The real thing to take from this is we're not going to ban a gas like this, but at least we refreshed the processes for dealing with these scenarios," Harding said, who serves as director of the school's medical toxicology department.

The Harris County Fire Marshal's Office said their investigation into the leak is ongoing.

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