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More spilled explosives found at Morehead City port

Posted January 13, 2010

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— Hazardous materials crews cleaning up a spill of an explosive compound at the state port at Morehead City found more of the same compound leaking Wednesday, officials said.

Nine 50-kilogram drums filled with the explosive PETN were punctured by a forklift early Tuesday as they were being unloaded at the port.

U.S. Coast Guard and State Ports Authority officials said Wednesday afternoon that they had found PETN leaking from drums in shipping containers not involved in Tuesday's accident. Some of the drums were damaged, which likely occurred during shipping, they said.

Also known as pentaerythritol tetranitrate, colorless PETN crystals are the primary ingredient in detonating cords used for industrial explosions. The compound also is used in military devices and blasting caps, as well as in heart medications.

Morehead City port shutdown More spilled explosives found at Morehead

PETN was used in an attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight, and it was used by Richard Reid, the notorious "shoe bomber," who tried to blow up a jet in 2001.

The PETN in Morehead City was shipped from Spain, and a private contractor brought it into the port, according to Lt. Robert Jones of the State Ports Authority Police. The Coast Guard approved its importation for commercial purposes, he said.

State Ports Authority officials said Tuesday that they expected the port to reopen by 8 a.m. Wednesday, but the port remained closed all day, and there was no word on when it would reopen.

"We were certainly working toward a timeline, but this is an evolution in progress," Coast Guard Capt. June Ryan said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "We are not going to sacrifice safety because of a timeline or a number that somebody provided."

The Coast Guard has established a 300-yard safety zone around the port during the cleanup.

Morehead City officials canceled a voluntary evacuation order Tuesday evening for people within a half-mile of the port, and they reopened U.S. Highway 70 between 4th Street in Morehead City and the high-rise bridge to Beaufort.

The evacuation and roadblocks turned the Morehead City waterfront into a ghost town for much of Tuesday.

"It is wintertime, and we count every penny that we have," chef and restaurateur Fabian Botta said. "When something like this happens, you have to take the measures, but it also hurts your pocket."

Morehead City Fire Chief Wes Lail on Tuesday called the cleanup effort "tedious work," saying crews had to spend hours separating the damaged drums from the shipping container in which they were brought to port and from undamaged drums of PETN.

Only then, Lail said, could the spill be cleaned up.

"One good thing that comes out of this is experience," Morehead City Mayor Jerry Jones Jr. said Tuesday. "If and when something like this happens in the future, we'll be better prepared for it."

The state port handled 1.9 million tons of cargo in the fiscal year that ended last June, including 118 shiploads and 415 barges.

24 Comments

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  • didisaythat Jan 14, 2010

    I must be missing something, but everyone is asking why an investigation is not going on...How do we know it is not. The Port Authority and Coast Gurard are involved. They I would think are doing an investigation....And there may not be anything to investigate. The Matlocks in this crowd are bored...Watch COPS and tell the TV how they should really do it.

  • AtALost Jan 13, 2010

    It's really unfortunate that IQ tests and periodic retests aren't required for certain jobs.

  • thweave Jan 13, 2010

    I read in the Morehead paper that these containers were small cardboard barrels (about 12" dia. and 24" high)If they were double or triple stacked I can see how a forklift could hit a couple on the bottom and damage several drums. If other ones were damaged in the container I'd say that happened in shipment.
    Another question asked was why did it take 4 hours to set up an emergency perimeter. The answer was that they needed to be sure what the chemical was. But later it said they knew the chemical was being shipped and had an emergency plan in place. Sounds like some poor communication!! Sound familiar?

  • familyfour Jan 13, 2010

    I "heard" a fork lift driver did this.....but nine drums?

    I don't think they went too far....better safe than sorry.

    When you have to go in and out of there, you might rethink what is safe....and what isn't.

    The ports are too critical to not pay attention to.....

  • woodrowboyd2 Jan 13, 2010

    Did you ever stop to think maybe the barrels were already damaged before they were unload in Morehead.
    Just a thought.

  • Rolling Along Jan 13, 2010

    Where are OSHA, ATF, EPA?

  • Dick Jan 13, 2010

    What is up with this? Forklift operating dock-worker causes this much damage to cargo (obviously not knowing he could have blown himself, and most others within a half mile, to hades). There are questions that need answers. What was this dude's issue and what is gonna be done about it? Where is the "Investigative Reporting"?

  • fugitive guy Jan 13, 2010

    I love visiting Morehead City. However, the town has never quite lived up to its name.

  • itsmyownopinion Jan 13, 2010

    The last time I got a good look at a forklift, it had a couple of "prongs" or blades, or whatever they may be called, so I can understand accidentally puncturing one barrel, maybe a couple, but nine? No, I don't know how that happened.

  • protestthis Jan 13, 2010

    Ah yes - another conspiracy. Accidents never happen.. Chemicals that have uses for "Bad" things NEVER enter the country here in NC.... SOMEONE MUST BE LYING TO US!!!!!!!!

    Please ---- give me a break. Go relax and get a cup of tea or something.

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