Propane cleanup moving along

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 11, 2003


Public safety personnel from Suffolk, Chesapeake and Portsmouth continued Tuesday to work the scene of an accident where a tanker filled with 9,200 pounds of liquid propane crashed Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, traffic has slowed while crews work to burn off the propane.

The accident took place around 3:30 p.m. when a Keenan Transport tanker flipped over onto its side completely blocking the exit onto Interstate 664 at Exit 9A on Route 17. Since Monday afternoon, State Police, the Driver Volunteer Fire Department, VDOT employees, Haz-Mat teams, and public safety personnel have been at the scene.

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&uot;If everything continues to go well this afternoon, we may get this cleaned up sooner than we first expected,&uot; said Suffolk’s Manager of Emergency Services Capt. Jim Judkins. &uot;Members of the Carrolton Volunteer Fire Department brought in its huge supertanker loaded with water and it’s helped a great deal. We expect to have this cleaned up between 8 p.m. tonight and midnight. The tanker should be moved out by the morning commute.&uot;

The firefighters and others thought first of offloading the fuel into another tanker, however, expert guidance from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management directed otherwise.

&uot;The position of the tanker was just unfavorable for offloading,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;The tank was on its side with the rear end pointed downward over the embankment, and once we filled it with water it would have made it heavy enough to slide down the hillside. Also, a truck from Fink’s Wrecker Service fastened a tow line to the tanker to secure its precarious position on the embankment.&uot;

Judkins explained that water from the Carrollton supertanker was pumped under great pressure into the propane tanker’s hull, forcing the propane out. The propane traveled through a hose connected to a barrel where four 100,000 BTU burners allowed the fuel to safely burn away.

Prior to the arrival of the Carrollton Fire Department, the burn had been much slower because the water used to force the gas from the tanker was injected under such low pressure. That method of burning the gas would have taken approximately 55 hours according to Judkins.

He also explained that the propane inside the tanker is liquid under containment. Once it hits the air it immediately turns into a vapor or gas. The latter also expands 270 times, or the equivalent of three million cubic feet.

The Nansemond-Suffolk Rescue Squad brought its &uot;rehab truck&uot; to the scene to provide food and refreshments for the firefighters and other public safety personnel. Judkins said they are literally &uot;camped out&uot; at the scene complete with &uot;Porta-Johns.&uot;

Around 6 p.m. Monday,

police and other public safety personnel put the city’s new &uot;Reverse 911 Communications System&uot; to work, alerting citizens in the vicinity of the accident to stay away from the area.

Haz-Mat teams remained at the scene all through Tuesday, and the highway remains blocked off for a quarter-mile radius.