Halifax County Chemical Leak Forces Hundreds from Their Homes
Posted August 4, 1999
WELDON — Hundreds of people were forced out of their Halifax County homes Thursday afternoon when a chemical leak at a sewage treatment plant caught on fire. Residents were allowed back in their homes just before 5 p.m.
It took more than three hours to get a methane gas leak under control at the Roanoke Rapids Sanitary District, which is a wastewater treatment plant in Weldon.
There was an order given to evacuate everyone within a one-mile radius of the plant.
"My heart skipped a beat, and we just got on out," says evacuee Ava Fitts, who was back at home Thursday night, but her family had quite a scare earlier in the day.
"They were driving with the loud speaker saying we had to evacuate the area at once," Fitts said. "So we just grabbed all the children and took off."
The evacuation was necessary because workers making repairs on the top of a processor building at the wastewater treatment plant ignited leaking methane gas.
"Methane gas is liberated in the process naturally, and it was that gas that ignited," says Dan Brown, chief executive officer of the Roanoke Rapids Sanitary District. "It was a flash burn that burned itself out quickly."
Fire crews stayed on the scene for several hours to make sure the fire was not inside the building. Although officials were hoping for the best, they were preparing for the worst.
"I believe it could have exploded, but it would have been contained in a 600 to 700 foot area around it," Brown said.
Hundreds of people were ordered to evacuate to the Weldon High School gym and to the Kirkwood Adams Civic Center for about four hours.
"My dog was in [my house], and I didn't know what to do with him," says evacuee Lisa Brown who was at work during the incident. Her first thought was of her mother and her baby.
"I didn't know if it was going to be an explosion or what," Brown said. "All kinds of things cross your mind."
There were no injuries reported during the incident, and the processing plant was up and running by 5 p.m.