January 23, 2005

Spill could have been worse

The chlorine leak caused by a Jan. 6 train derailment in Graniteville, SC, could have been worse, according to an Associated Press article. I certainly learned from it. The article is a new approach to the story of the wreck, and it goes to show that not all SC emergency responders are redneck hicks. (Hopefully En Fuego appreciates that observation.)

Firefighter Bill Elliott watched a dog collapse in front of him in the midst of one the nation's deadliest chemical spills and began wondering if he had on the proper protective gear.

``He just fell over dead in front of us,'' said the 43-year-old Elliott, who hoped his hazmat suit was strong enough to protect him. ``It was too late then, we was in the middle of it. I said, 'Well, here we go boys.' It was intense to say the least.''

Elliott's years of emergency training at the Savannah River Site, a former nuclear weapons complex about 15 miles from Graniteville, paid off earlier this month when toxic chlorine gas was released following a train wreck.

Just three months before the green-blue chlorine cloud blanketed the tiny textile town on Jan. 6, Elliott had practiced responding to a mock train derailment with a chemical spill at SRS.

When the real thing happened, about 5,400 residents were evacuated from Graniteville after a train slammed into a parked train, rupturing a tanker of chlorine, spewing a vapor cloud across the town. Nine people were killed and more than 250 were injured.

Surrounding communities have long prepared for an accident such as this because the site where atomic bombs were once made during the Cold War is so close.

The story continues, explaining how proximity to the Savannah River Site (with its resources and training) paid off.

``Everything just fell in like clockwork,'' said Elliott, who has worked in emergency services for 25 years. ``I know people complain about drills, but man, it sure paid off this time.''

Elliott also was part of a crew that found six of the nine victims and rescued one man who was trapped in his car near the accident site.

``What probably saved his life was that he was entrapped in the car because most people probably would have got out and sucked in the vapor cloud and that would have been it,'' Elliott said.

The town is still recovering from the disaster. Some 50 homes remained off-limits Friday as officials need to inspect those homes closest to the crash site and crews were continuing to clean the wreckage.

Evacuee Janet Scott, who returned home more than a week ago, complimented everyone involved in the response.

``I think if they hadn't had all the practice they might not have been able to respond to the accident as well as they did,'' Scott said. ``I think they did a wonderful job all the way around.''

Posted by JRC at January 23, 2005 09:21 PM | TrackBack