SpaceX’s spacecraft kicked up a cloud of dust, leaving Texans in a mess
As the most powerful rocket ever built exploded from its launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas on Thursday, liftoff shook the earth and kicked up a cloud of dust and debris, shaking homes and raining fire. brown grime for miles.
In Port Isabel, a town about six miles to the northwest where at least one window shattered, residents were alarmed.
“It was really terrifying,” said Sharon Almaguer, who at the time of the launch was at home with her 80-year-old mother. On previous launches, Ms Almaguer said she had felt jolts inside the brick house, but “it was on a completely different level”.
Meanwhile, the SpaceX spacecraft exploded minutes after liftoff and before reaching orbit. Near the launch site, residents of Port Isabel, known for its towering lighthouse and less than 10 miles from the border with Mexico, faced the mayhem.
Virtually everywhere in the city “ended up with a blanket of a rather thick, gritty grain of sand that just landed on everything,” Valerie Bates, a spokeswoman for Port Isabel, said in an interview.
Footage posted to social media showed residents’ cars covered in brown debris.
A window shattered in a gym, its owner, Luis Alanis, said. Mr Alanis, who was at home at the time of the launch, said it felt “rumbling, a bit like a mini earthquake”. He estimated the window would cost about $300 to repair.
Closer to the launch site, large debris were recorded flying through the air and crashing into an unoccupied car.
Louis Balderas, the founder of LabPadre, which films SpaceX launches, said while seeing debris, smoke and dust was common, the impact of Thursday’s liftoff was unlike anything he had never seen.
“There were bowling ball-sized pieces of concrete that came out of the launch pad area,” Mr. Balderas said. The explosion, he added, had created a crater he estimated to be about 25 feet deep.
In a statement on Facebook, the City of Port Isabel said the Cameron County Emergency Management Division confirmed the dust “was sand and dirt from near the SpaceX launch site that was thrown in the air by the force of take-off”.
On Thursday, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. ordered the closure of Boca Chica Beach and a section of State Highway 4 until 2 p.m. Friday “in an effort to protect the health and safety of public safety during anomaly cleanup efforts”.
Ms Bates, the Port Isabel spokeswoman, said based on current information there was no “immediate concern for people’s health”.
Eric Roesch, an environmental compliance and risk assessment expert who tracks SpaceX rocket launches, said in an interview that he and others have long warned of environmental risks to the surrounding region. But without a chemical analysis of the dust and debris, he added, it is difficult to say whether or not they are harmful to human health.
But, Roesch said, “the presence of this dust kind of tells me that the impact modeling was inadequate, because it wasn’t really disclosed as a possible impact.”
In June, a Federal Aviation Administration environmental assessment concluded that SpaceX’s plans for orbital launches would have “no significant impact” on the region along the Gulf Coast.
Mr Roesch, who runs environmental policy blog ESG Hound, said he believed the dust and debris came largely from a giant crater formed when the rocket lifted off. Normally, major launch sites are designed with a trench or water system that helps deflect the rocket’s flame from the ground and cushion the impact, he said.
“They didn’t do that,” he said. “It looks like they went ahead and just launched this thing.”
The FAA said in a statement Friday that Space X’s “anomaly response plan” has been activated.
In the described plan, SpaceX is responsible for assessing the situation and notifying the appropriate agencies.
If an event causes debris in the area where the rocket took off, the plan says the company would need to obtain an emergency special use permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and access to the area could eventually be restricted. restricted.
The FAA said SpaceX is required to ensure that “any ground and flight safety hazards do not pose an unacceptable risk to the public during licensed activities.”
SpaceX did not respond to questions about the dust and debris Thursday night.
Port Isabel resident Ms Almaguer said while Elon Musk’s company had created jobs in an economically struggling region, the brown mud that covered his town was a reminder of the environmental disadvantages and a sign that things had gotten out of control.
“The people here are just being sacrificed,” she said.
“He just wanted to put this thing in the air,” Ms. Almaguer said of Mr. Musk. “Everyone else is kind of damned.”
McKenna Oxenden contributed report.
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