Photo: Underwear of alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Northwest flight 253 to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.
PETN was the same explosive material authorities say Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab used to try to destroy a Detroit bound airplane on Christmas Day.
Morehead City Fire Chief Wes Lail told television station WTVD the chemical involved is pentaerythritol tetranitrate. It's not clear what form the chemical was in.
PETN is often used in military explosives and found inside blasting caps. It is also the primary ingredient in detonating cords used for industrial explosions.
Photo: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Authorities did not immediately say how big the containers were or how they were damaged.
Police told people near the port to stay away from windows and doors. Officers were sent downtown to knock on doors and relay alert and evacuation recommendations.
Morehead City police spokeswoman Amy H. Thompson said people close to the port were leaving, but she did not know how many.
The Morehead port is one of the deepest on the East coast. Its Web site says its top import last year was sulfur products and the top export was phosphate.
Locals said there was no sense of panic. Drew Hall, who answered the phone at Crystal Coast Jamboree, a concert hall near the port, said she could see police lights.
"Everybody is going about their business," said Hall, 27 who has lived in Morehead City her whole life and does not remember a similar incident. "Why get nervous? Things happen. You can't freak out in times like this. If you freak out, you're going to go down."
Calls to Mayor Jerry Jones were not returned. The coastal town has about 8,800 residents.