Destroyed shuttle drops hazardous debris

Destroyed space shuttle Columbia dropped hazardous debris over parts of Texas and Louisiana Saturday.


Destroyed space shuttle Columbia dropped hazardous debris over parts of Texas and Louisiana Saturday.

Residents across eastern Texas and along the Texas-Louisiana border reported finding debris and machinery parts Saturday. One piece crashed through the roof of a dentist's office.

Response, initially led by the Department of Homeland Security as a terrorist attack was investigated then ruled out, was then turned over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Environmental Protection Agency was assisting, as were U.S. Army troops.

NASA told residents in the area they should be aware that any debris found in the area could be hazardous, and to avoid contact with it. People were warned to stay 100 yards away from debris.

Disaster response personnel from Church World Service (CWS) were making contact with local emergency management officials, who were investigating an apartment fire in Plano, Texas that may or may not be associated with falling debris.

Joann Hale, a specialist in technological disasters who represents both the United Church of Christ and CWS, urged residents to obey NASA's instructions to stay away from the debris.

Contamination, Hale said, could spread from the debris to the soil. "If it hit my apartment, for example, I wouldn't go back in there. I would want my furniture, clothing and carpeting cleaned."

Cleanup itself will be a logistical challenge, she predicted. "Where are they going to gather all of it? How are they going to dispose of all this stuff?"

The Salvation Army reported its units are on alert in three states to support government search, rescue, and recovery operations should the need arise.

In Texas, a Salvation Army divisional response team gathered at the Texas Divisional Headquarters, and five canteens were dispatched to support emergency workers in Texas in areas where debris was reported fallen.

Salvation Army units in Florida and Louisiana were also ready to assist local government response operations.

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