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Schools Evacuated After KC Chemical Blast

Feb 7, 2007 | AP Several explosions engulfed a chemical plant in flames Wednesday, forcing a broad evacuation as the fire spewed a sticky substance that residents were warned not to touch.

Authorities said several 55-gallon drums containing chemicals exploded at about 2:15 p.m., touching off more explosions and fires, including blasts from three, 30,000-gallon tankers, Kansas City Fire Marshal Floyd Peoples said. Crews said mineral spirits were involved in the fire.

Plant superintendent Craig Nienhueser said workers heard a hissing noise inside the building. He went around to the back and noticed some flames, at which point the workers were evacuated.

"We are just thankful everybody is OK. Now we just have to work with the fire department to get this contained," Nienhueser said.

Workers in nearby buildings told TV station KMBC they heard about eight explosions, the building shook and that the lights flickered. Viewers from across the metro area have said they heard the explosion and that their lights and TV flickered.

No injuries have been reported, but three hospitals are on alert. Police were driving up and down nearby streets warning that more explosions were expected at the Chemcentral facility, which stores and distributes various chemicals and solvents.

The city's emergency operations unit is up and running. The city issued a mandatory evacuation order for everyone within a one-mile radius of the chemical plant. Crews are going door to door to make sure people leave.

The Red Cross is opening up a shelter for evacuees at a North Kansas City High School.

Dozens of fire trucks, ambulances and a hazardous materials crew are at the scene.

Environmental Issues Complicate Response

Fire Chief Richard "Smokey" Dyer said crews are not fighting the fire with water because the runoff would cause an environmental problem of potentially hazardous materials.

"We are not fighting this fire at all," Dyer said. "The only way to handle this fire is to allow it to burn itself out."

Dyer said one fire truck crew briefly used a water stream on the blaze, but they were told to evacuate.

He said the best-case scenario is that the fire will burn out by Thursday morning and the worst-case scenario is that the fire will burn for 72 hours. Dyer also said that Chemcentral is the only business that is reporting fire damage.

Dan Brennan, an attorney at Chemcentral's headquarters in Bedford Park, Ill., said the Kansas City plant has 15 to 20 workers.

Fire officials said the plant has a good safety record.

Debris Falls From Smoke Plume

A huge plume of smoke could be seen coming from the Chemcentral building. The dark cloud was visible for at least 30 miles and winds had blown the smoke to other parts of the metro area, KMBC reported.

Pieces of debris that look like ashes have fallen from the cloud of smoke. EPA officials are urging residents not to touch the debris.

Fire officials also told residents throughout the city to avoid picking up debris carried by the dark cloud that streamed out of downtown, although Dyer said the material was not highly toxic. The cloud appeared to be dropping a sticky substance as it moved to the southwest. Dyer said it was unlikely that anything falling was dangerous, but officials urged caution anyway.

KMBC reported that some debris that was the size of a shoebox fell from the sky.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency are monitoring the situation. Officials said no pollutants have been found, but the vapors could affect breathing.

Health officials advised those with asthma or respiratory problems to stay inside, to take their medicines or to check with their doctor.

Rowlands reported that aviation officials have been warned about the plume of smoke and the falling debris.

Schools Evacuated

Employees and residents have been evacuated from the area. Eight elementary schools were also evacuated: Scarritt, McCoy, Gladstone, Garfield, Whittier, Trailwoods, Woodland and James. After-school programs have been canceled at Rogers Elementary, Northeast Middle, Garcia and Northeast High School. Students will be transported to the Paseo Academy High School at 4747 Flora Ave. Parents with questions can call 816-418-7549, 816-418-7565 or 816-418-7610.

The Kansas City School District said students and staff members were told not to walk home.

Roads in the area have been shut down ncluding the Paseo Bridge and traffic is being detoured.

Kansas City Southern Railway Co. shut down its rail yard operation near the plant and evacuated workers as a precaution.

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