November 21, 2007 Edition

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Gas leak results in evacuation

Gretchen Hunt

A ruptured gas line caused the evacuation of the southeast corner of Lawrence County on Sunday, according to Walnut Ridge Fire Chief Alan Haskins.

Haskins, who was commander on the scene, led the emergency response efforts, which began with the 911 call at 4:01 a.m. and ended at 1:16 p.m., when the scene was declared secure. He said the rupture was at the Texas Eastern Products Pipeline Company (TEPPCO) station, located north of Egypt on Highway 349, off Highway 228, approximately two miles east of Highway 91.

When Walnut Ridge firefighters arrived at the scene they could see a plume shooting 100-150 feet in the air, Haskins said.

He said the initial evacuation area was about one and a half miles from the site in all directions. Because of the wind direction, the evacuation area was expanded to the south, first to three miles and then to five.

Lawrence County's response also included the Alicia and Sedgwick fire departments, the Sheriff's Department and the Office of Emergency Services. Haskins said they also requested an ambulance to be on standby and Medic One, who was next on the rotation, rotated crews to provide an ambulance the entire time they were on the scene.

Haskins said those responding used monitoring equipment to determine how bad the leak was and how far the gas was spreading. He said Jonesboro Fire Department assisted, sending two members of their HazMat team and a truck with monitoring equipment on it.

Haskins said a Walnut Ridge HazMat member and a Jonesboro team member used the WRFD's mule to circle the perimeter and check the air quality.

It was reported that residents of Egypt could smell the gas.

"We figured it was going into the Cache River valley and traveling along the river," Haskins said. "They could smell it in Egypt and Cash."

He said they were planning to expand the evacuation area even further south when TEPPCO was able to shut down the pipe by valves on one end.

He said the sun also came out about that time, which caused the humidity to drop and the gas to begin to dissipate. At around 12:30 p.m., the evacuation area was reduced back down to one mile, and at 1:16 the all clear was given.

Many of the residents who were evacuated were sent to the Walnut Ridge Community Center, where volunteers manned the scene until the Red Cross arrived.

Paige VanBrook of the Lawrence County Office of Emergency Services said Walnut Ridge School Supt. Terry Belcher opened the community center for the evacuees and the community was quick to respond by volunteering and donating food.

Sherry Butts and Redda Russell worked at the community center until the Red Cross arrived, according to VanBrook, and McDonald's and Ole Hickory both donated food.

She said the grocery stores also provided assistance. Harps made a rush order of 80 sandwiches, and Hays opened early so they could get food for the evacuees and emergency workers.

"We are so grateful," VanBrook said of the support from the community.

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