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Gas From Tank Car Explosion Leads to Evacuation Near Chemical Plant

October 24, 1995

BOGALUSA, La. (AP) _ A tank car imploded at a paper mill Monday, sending a huge pinkish-yellow cloud of poisonous gas into the sky and forcing about 1,500 people from their homes.

More than half the town’s 16,000 residents live in the evacuation area. While some fled to towns and hospitals as far as 20 miles away, others stayed home with their windows tightly closed.

Hundreds of people descended on hospitals to be treated for burning eyes and throats. Two of the hospitals were in the evacuation zone, but only critical care patients were moved.

``They all have the same complaints: shortness of breath, eyes burning, throats burning,″ said state Rep. Jerry Thomas, a doctor at Riverside Medical Center in Franklinton, 20 miles from Bogalusa. ``It looks like a temporary thing for all of them. Some are receiving oxygen; some are just taking breaths and it’s going away.″

The railroad car at the Gaylord Chemical Corp. plant in the heart of Bogalusa, about 60 miles north of New Orleans, began leaking around 4 p.m. and collapsed with a bang about 45 minutes later, Washington Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Nicolais said.

``It was a big pink cloud, bright pink, like somebody took a crayon and used it over the mill,″ said Benton Lively, who lives nearby. ``It has changed colors. Now it is yellow. And much smaller.″

The area was barricaded and people were told to leave. Streets were jammed and officers told those who could not get out to to stay home with their windows closed. Roads into the city were closed.

It took officers well into the night to go door-to-door in the mandatory evacuation zone. By 10 p.m., they said they had routed out about 1,500 people.

The gas was identified as nitrogen tetroxide, used in rocket fuel, and used at the mill to make heavy brown paper for boxes.

``The gas is really, really bad stuff. It’s fatal if inhaled,″ state trooper Russell Mayfield said. Medics warned its effects could surface weeks from now.

Bogalusa Police Capt. Ernie Wells said about 300 people were treated at Bogalusa Community Medical Center, including two admitted to intensive care, and another 100 at Washington-St. Tammany Regional Medical Center, nearly a mile from the mill.

The fire chief was treated for gas inhalation, and a police major was among those admitted, he said. Some officers directing traffic were overcome by fumes, and a few at the station, about half a mile from the mill, also felt ill.

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