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Dec 14, 2005

Butane gas truck leak threatens northside neighbourhood

Story PictureMid-morning traffic ground to a halt today as a butane gas leak on the north side of the city threatened an entire neighbourhood. For more than a few tense moments, the situation was touch and go as officials rushed to secure the scene, because as cameraman Rick Romero and I discovered, just about anything could have triggered a massive explosion.

Rose Marie Tillett, School Warden, Ebenezer Primary
?I never hear anything, all I could see was just the truck stop, the man jump out and the fumes coming out.?

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting
This morning, a number of area residents, students, and workers from Freetown Road, Barrack Road, and Victoria Street intersection were forced to immediately evacuate the area as butane gas from this double tank truck escaped into the air. Tonight we understand that the vehicle?s two inch flex hose broke, just as the truck was driving through the three way intersection.

As massive quantities of the combustible product rose quickly in the air, it engulfed everything in the immediate vicinity including vehicles and nearby buildings. According to Fire Department, the situation was extremely volatile. At the scene, nervous onlookers held their breath in fear of a huge explosion.

Ted Smith, Deputy Fire Chief
?All it needed was an ignition source, which can come from the flipping of a light switch, a simple cellular phone, and then we would have had an explosion.?

One of the first group of people to be moved out of the area were the students of Ebenezer Primary School. The children?s school warden Rose Marie Tillett says she was outside the building when she saw what looked like white smoke and then smelled gas.

Rose Marie Tillett
?I just see exactly the smoke coming out of the truck. I see when the man from the truck, one of them jump out, then in about two seconds the other one jumped out. I ran inside to tell the teacher that there is an emergency. I warned them about the small kids, because I know it?s something serious with gas because it was looking more like clouds to me.?

Jacqueline Woods
?So it was very thick??

Rose Marie Tillett
?Yeah it was very thick to me, it reminds me of clouds.?

Jacqueline Woods
?Did it affect your breathing??

Rose Marie Tillett
?No, because as I look and I see that it was the gas, then all I could have said was that it?s dangerous because if there is light or anything around, fire, then everything could have explode.?

Everyone was kept at bay as fire fighters donned their gas masks to clean up the mess and make the area safe once again. Deputy Fire Chief Ted Smith says their first priority was evacuating people from the neighbourhood.

Ted Smith, Deputy Fire Chief
?Then afterwards some fire fighters had to be sent in within the gas itself to locate the leakage and try to close off the leakage. We did locate the valve and close the valve, but not before ninety percent of the product came out.?

In the end, the situation was under control in one hour. Once the smoke had been cleared, fire fighters and police conducted searches to make sure no one was left trapped in buildings and it was safe to call off the evacuation.

Ted Smith
?What we are doing now is going from house to house within the neighbourhood to ensure that the product does not settle within the house and later cause a fire after we leave. So we?re trying to ensure that has not occurred at this time.?

The incident has highlighted concerns expressed about the way butane is delivered in populated areas. Five years ago L.P.G. operators agreed to the policy which basically states that butane deliveries should be made between nine a.m. to eleven a.m. and two p.m. to four p.m. from Mondays to Fridays. On Saturdays, deliveries are to be made between nine a.m. to two p.m., and Sundays from ten a.m. to four p.m. Under this policy, the truck was in compliance with the regulations.

The incident occurred only a stone throw away from this fast food establishment. Fortunately the owner says he would not have started cooking until an hour?s time…timing that today, averted a major disaster.

When News Five contacted the truck’s company, Gas Tomza Limited, we were told by management that the shaft that drives the pump became loose and the front part of the device dropped on the street, which more than likely caused the break in the hose.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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