Local News

Highway Reopens After Nitrogen Spill Cleaned Up

Posted December 27, 2006 10:27 a.m. EST
Updated December 27, 2006 6:00 p.m. EST

— U.S. Highway 421 reopened in Sampson County Wednesday evening, more than seven hours after a tractor-trailer carrying liquid nitrogen overturned.

The accident occurred at about 9:45 a.m. at the intersection of U.S. 421 and Church Road, which is about eight miles northwest of Clinton. A car driven by 87-year-old James Vann ran a stop sign and hit the tractor-trailer, causing the truck driver to lose control of his rig, authorities said.

Vann said he was headed to a wellness center to go swimming and didn't see the truck as he pulled onto U.S. 421, authorities said. Both he and the truck driver were taken to Sampson County Regional Hospital with minor injuries.

The liquid nitrogen wasn't considered hazardous, but some diesel fuel leaked from the overturned tractor-trailer, and authorities feared it could mix with the liquid nitrogen and cause an explosion.

A hazmat team was called to the scene and covered the area with sand to absorb the fuel.

"This situation, when people said nitrogen, it sounded a lot worse than it really was," North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper Michael Hall said.

Authorities blocked off U.S. 421 for a half-mile in each direction and evacuated at least three nearby homes. No injuries were reported.

"I heard something like a tin can being dropped in the yard," said Valerie Sweatt, who had to leave her nearby home. "I was really scared, you know. With it leaking like it was, I was scared it was going to blow up."

The tractor-trailer is registered to M.R. Yow Trucking in Lillington. Owner Melvin Yow said the rig supplies liquid nitrogen to area farms for use in fertilizer.

"He's doing good," Yow said of his driver, who was heading to Lillington when the wreck occurred. "(He's) ready to go home, but he's doing all right, other than just being shook up."

The wreck marked the second time in a week when a tractor-trailer carrying hazardous material overturned on an area highway.

Last week, a truck loaded with 6,000 tons of low-grade powdered uranium flipped on a ramp from Interstate 95 to Interstate 40 in Johnston County. The wreck forced I-95 to be closed for several hours.