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Anhydrous 'not something to mess around with'

Mar 17, 2007 | The Post-Bulletin

For some, the danger near their homes was not seen, heard or most importantly smelled.

Residents of a Lake City mobile home park evacuated this morning because a nearby train car was leaking anhydrous ammonia, and they moved quickly to get out of harm's way.

"It's something you take very seriously," said Jennifer Meyer, one evacuated resident. About 100 residences in the Edge O' Town development, on U.S. 61 on the south side of Lake City, were evacuated.

Meyer was preparing her children, ages 8 and 3, for an outing with their father when, at 8:30 a.m., a police officer knocked on her door and told Meyer she had to get her family out, right away.

Meyer, once trained as an emergency medical technician, said, "I knew that anhydrous ammonia is not something to mess around with."

She hustled her children out of the house, taking them and her mother, Darlene Reimers, to the Red Cross evacuation site at First Lutheran Church, across U.S. 63 South from The Jewel development.

There, they spent the day playing games, eating donated meals and waiting for word when they could return home.

"They've been very good, very kind to us," Meyer said.

Several area residents including Lake City Mayor Katie Himanga, who lives one-quarter mile away said they couldn't pick up the scent of ammonia after they were warned of the danger.

But some residents in southern Lake City complained of feeling sick, and people on the north end of town also reported headaches and nausea, the Red Wing Republican Eagle reported.

Signs of the ammonia leak seemed to grow more severe the farther north one went. Meyer and Reimers described a neighbor who was driving this morning to work in Red Wing. The neighbor told them the ammonia smell grew strong enough he had to pull the neck of his shirt up over his nose and mouth to breathe.

Another Edge O' Town resident, Newton High, was across town at his job, at Federal Mogul, a machinery plant near the train tracks on the north side of Lake City. At about 6:20 a.m., the plant filled with an ammonia smell, High said.

A supervisor called 911, was informed about the train car and was told to keep workers indoors, High said.

"It was really, really bad (the smell)," he said. One co-worker had breathing problems and was given oxygen.

He was given leave from work to evacuate and be with his family, which includes his wife, five daughters and two disabled parents.

"When I drove back across town, you could see a big cloud of smoke in that direction (south)," High said. "It didn't look like lake fog."

Authorities said they were uncertain whether the ammonia leak would have created a cloud.

Mayor Himanga was alerted to the problem early Saturday morning but couldn't smell ammonia until she'd gotten downtown.

"I've got a pretty good nose," she said. "I didn't pick it up right away."

She gave residents of the mobile home park credit for reacting quickly to the evacuation order.

"People were confused," she said. "Some of them were woken up (by the warning). They may or may not have picked up any of the scent."

No one was reported injured or required medical treatment directly related to the ammonia leak, authorities said.

The episode put Lake City's emergency response plan to the test, Himanga said, and "the plan worked extremely well."

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