February 26, 2010

Ammonia leak prompts evacuationsAMMONIA EMERGENCY

MEREDITH GOAD

— By

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/staff photographer... Friday, January 2, 2010....A leak of ammonia gas at a business on Read Street in Portland forced the evacuation of several nearby buildings and brought the cities HazMat team to the scene.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/staff photographer... Friday, January 2, 2010....A leak of ammonia gas at a business on Read Street in Portland forced the evacuation of several nearby buildings and brought the cities HazMat team to the scene.

Additional Photos Below

and DAVID HENCH

Staff Writers

PORTLAND — An ammonia leak at the Americold Logistics facility at 165 Read St. led to the voluntary evacuation of several residential streets Friday. Nobody was injured in the incident.

Six shifts of hazardous materials response teams worked late into the evening to fix the leak and vent the ammonia before residents were allowed back into their homes around 10:30 p.m.

An explosion just before noon inside the building ruptured the system carrying ammonia, used in the refrigeration process at the large, cold-storage facility, city officials said.

The leak was difficult to secure because the interior of the building was pitch black, and the hazardous materials response teams had to walk through lethal levels of ammonia to get to it, Portland Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne said.

''We do know that we had both liquid and ammonia gas leaking, but ammonia when it starts to expand or escape from its liquid form is very cold,'' LaMontagne said. ''Inside the space, we were working in temperatures between 0 and 15 degrees. It's like working inside the freezer of your house. The ceiling has a foot of ice on it, the sides have a foot of ice, and we had liquid ammonia dripping and also chunks of ice falling in certain cases in the environment these guys were working in.''

Officials don't know yet how much ammonia escaped. The entire system contains 10,000 pounds of ammonia. 

Based on scenarios that factor in wind speed and topography, the department asked residents on Read, Gleckler and Glengarden streets and Wellington and Carlyle roads to leave the area or stay indoors, city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said. School buses delivering students to those streets were instructed to return students to the school where parents could pick them up.

Teams of officers and firefighters went door to door to 125 homes to explain the situation to residents.

Annette Jordan, a nanny, was caring for a four-month-old infant at 46 Wellington Road when a firefighter knocked on the door at 3:45 p.m. to explain what was happening two blocks away. He told Jordan that it was a voluntary evacuation and that residents who stayed should keep their doors and windows closed as a precaution.

Jordan took notes on what the firefighter said for the child's parents and stayed in the house. ''They basically said use your own judgment,'' she said.

The infant's father, Todd Lesser, arrived home 45 minutes later.

Lesser's neighbor, Chris Gribbin of 50 Wellington Road, evacuated his home but stopped back around 5 p.m. to pick up a few things and check on his mother's house across the street.

Gribbin said he would stay at a friend's home until the situation was resolved. ''It just sounded like a safe thing to do,'' he said.

There were lights on in windows on Wellington, but just as many homes appeared to be dark and empty. A Metro bus carrying two residents rumbled down the street, the driver stopping along the way to ask people if they needed a ride. The city provided the buses for people who needed them and had a plan to provide shelter if it was needed, Clegg said.

By 10:30 p.m., fire officials were getting insignificant readings of ammonia outside the building.

''We're continuing to monitor it,'' LaMontagne said, ''but the concentrations are less than what you would have if you used ammonia in your kitchen to do typical cleaning, so we're very confident that we have a safe and stable situation for our residents to return to, and that's what we're most concerned about.''

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

20100122_Evacuation
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20100122_Evacuation

Gordon Chibroski

20100122_Evacuation
click image to enlarge

20100122_Evacuation

Gordon Chibroski

20100122_Evacuation
click image to enlarge

20100122_Evacuation

Gordon Chibroski



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