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Worldview Security Update – August 1, 2019


United States (Security threat level – 2): Shortly after 1100 local time (1600 UTC) on 31 July 2019, a large-scale fire broke out following an explosion at the ExxonMobil Olefins Plant, located near the intersection of Highway 146 and Texas Spur 330 in Baytown, Texas, approximately 25 mi (40 km) east of the city of Houston. The fire and accompanying explosion, which shot huge plumes of smoke into the air, occurred in a unit that contained propylene materials. Baytown city officials then issued a precautionary shelter-in-place order for residents in the areas situated west of the facility and south of the Texas Spur 330 freeway; residents were urged to stay indoors, keep their doors and windows closed and turn off the air conditioning for more than three hours. At least 37 people at the site suffered minor injuries due to the explosion and fire. Firefighters contained and isolated the blaze by the afternoon hours, but the fire had not been extinguished. ExxonMobil and local officials conducted air quality monitoring in the area, but did not find pollutants that could cause health concerns. An investigation to determine the cause of the explosion and fire remains underway.


China (Security threat level – 3): A number of anti-government protest actions are scheduled to occur in Hong Kong between 2 and 5 August 2019. On 2 August a civil servant rally is expected to take place at Chater Garden in Central district. At least 2,000 government workers and other demonstrators plan to attend the gathering. Turnout may be lower than expected, however, as the government has issued a statement warning government employees not to attend the rally or risk facing repercussions for violating the Civil Service Code, which requires government employees to maintain loyalty to Hong Kong’s chief executive and avoid political displays while at work.

On 3 August a protest is scheduled to take place in the Mong Kok shopping district, located in Kowloon. Originally, protesters were expected to hold a march from Anchor Street Playground to MacPherson Playground, which is situated approximately 1 km (0.6 mi) to the east. However, authorities denied permission for the march, citing threats to public safety, and instead have permitted demonstrators to gather only at the Anchor Street Playground. Meanwhile, a pro-police rally is planned at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on the same day.

On 4 August protest marches are also scheduled to occur in Tseung Kwan O in New Territories and in Sai Wan on Hong Kong Island. The Tseung Kwan O protest is expected to begin at Po Tsui Park, and conclude at Velodrome Park, which is situated approximately 2 km to the south. The Sai Wan protest is expected to begin at Forbes Street Temporary Park, and conclude at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Museum, which is situated approximately 4 km to the east. Currently, it remains unknown whether the protesters have received permits to organize the 4 August rallies.

On 5 August protesters in Hong Kong plan to stage a citywide general strike. The protesters also plan to stage simultaneous rallies in the Admiralty, Mong Kok, Sha Tin, Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun, Wong Tai Sin and Tai Po districts. At least 95 public and private sector unions support the strike, including staff members of the transportation, finance and education sectors. Hong Kong International Airport (VHHH/HKG) officials have stated that they will coordinate with the government and business partners to ensure uninterrupted operations at the facility during the strike.

China / Vietnam / Laos (Security threat levels – 3 / 3 / 3): According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), as of 0900 UTC on 1 August 2019, Tropical Storm Wipha was located approximately 460 km (290 mi) east of Hanoi, Vietnam, and was moving northwest at 9 kph (6 mph). At that point, the storm was generating maximum sustained winds of 65 kph, with gusts of up to 83 kph. Late on 31 July, authorities in Hong Kong downgraded the level of alert for Wipha from Typhoon 8 signal (the third highest level of alert on a 10-tier scale) to a Typhoon 3 signal, as the storm moved farther from the city. However, officials advised local residents to avoid low-lying areas. At least 700 flights were canceled or delayed at Hong Kong International Airport (VHHH/HKG). Authorities in China’s Hainan, Guangdong and Guangxi provinces issued blue alerts — the lowest level of alert on a 4-tier scale — for coastal areas in the region. Wipha is currently tracking across China’s Hainan Island and the Leizhou Peninsula, and is expected to make landfall in China’s Guangxi province on 2 August. The storm is then forecast to make a second landfall in northern Vietnam on 3 August before tracking onward to Laos the following day.


Yemen (Security threat level – 5): On 1 August 2019, two separate attacks targeted a military parade and a police station in the southern port city of Aden. Early on 1 August, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) detonated at a police station in the Omar al-Mokhtar district, causing damage and casualties. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Later that day, explosions occurred during a military parade at Al Jalaa military base, located in Aden’s Buraiqa district. Houthi rebel forces claimed responsibility for the latter attack. A Houthi-controlled news agency reported that the second attack was carried out with a medium-range ballistic missile and an armed drone. At least 40 people, including 17 police officers, were killed in the attacks.
Analyst Comment: The Yemeni central government controls the city of Aden, with the support of Saudi-led coalition forces. Yemeni officials have not released further details regarding the attacks, which do not appear to have been coordinated.


Democratic Republic Of The Congo / Rwanda (Security threat levels – 5 / 3): On 1 August 2019, Rwandan authorities closed the Goma-Gisenyi border crossing with neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in an effort to stop the spread of Ebola virus into Rwanda. The border closure follows Congolese health officials’ announcement of the third confirmed case of Ebola virus in the city of Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, the previous day. Health officials do not believe that the most recent case is connected to the previous two cases of Ebola that were detected in Goma on 14 and 30 July.

Analyst Comment: Congolese health officials declared an Ebola outbreak in the DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces in August 2018; there have since been more than 2,600 confirmed cases of the disease and the World Health Organization (WHO) has upgraded the outbreak’s status in those provinces to a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).”