16,000 in NCflee toxic fire

Some 16,000 residents of a Raleigh suburb evacuated Friday when a fire at a hazardous waste plant spewed noxious black smoke.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 6, 2006


Some 16,000 residents of a Raleigh suburb evacuated Friday when a fire at a hazardous waste plant spewed noxious black smoke.

The facility - Environmental Quality Industrial Services - processes hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

The entire area of Apex, N.C., was covered with smoke that contains pesticides, oxides, chlorine gases and other contaminants, according to local reports. Town officials warned people they were in grave danger. People living in the eastern half of the town were evacuated. Others were being told to "shelter in place," or remain in their homes with windows shut and the air conditioning off.

Hazardous materials teams were making assessments at daybreak.

Emergency management officials were especially concerned about those who might not hear or be able to heed evacuation orders - the elderly, children and persons with disabilities.

More than 100 people - many of them elderly people who live in a nursing home - have been hospitalized. The injured were all complaining of respiratory distress. No deaths have been reported.

Health officials cautioned people to watch for the symptoms of poisoning - tenderness of the mouth, gagging and nausea, in addition to respiratory distress.

Local officials were also warning sightseers away from the fire scene.

The cause of the fire - which was preceded by explosions - was unknown. Environmental Quality Industrial Services was fined in March for six safety violations, according to reports from the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources.

Apex, 10 miles southwest of Raleigh, is home to about 32,000 people. As of Friday morning, about half of them were evacuated. Fire officials are planning to let the fire burn itself out because of the hazards the toxins pose to firefighters.

Hotels were rapidly filling up, and at least 200 residents had gathered at a local elementary school that was transformed into an emergency shelter. All businesses and schools were closed in Apex on Friday.


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