Gasoline Leak

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 21, 2008

Batesville sewer plant operator David Karr (left) traced routes of sewer pipes in the vicinity of a gasoline leak at Huron Smith Oil Company as municipal employees and firemen planned an operation late Thursday to flush gas fumes from the lines. Among those coordinating the effort are (from left) Jackie Chapman, Mike Ross, Daniel Cole, Tim Taylor and Rip Copeland. The Panolian photo by John Howell Sr.

Gasoline seeps into sewer lines at bulk plant

By John Howell Sr.

Batesville firemen prepared late Thursday afternoon to flush sewer lines with water and go door-to-door with gas detectors after gasoline leaked into the sanitary sewer system from the Huron Smith Oil Company bulk plant at Vance and Hays Street.

Firemen and police blocked streets in the area starting Thursday morning while they attempted to locate the origin of the gasoline in the sewer pipes. Upon the discovery of the source of the leak at the oil company’s bulk plant at about 11 a.m., they also closed Hays Street from Thomas to Pearson.

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“We’re trying to keep them closed off; there’s still a lot of fumes,” Batesville Police Chief Tony Jones said.

Police evacuated as a precaution at least one day care center near the spill area. The Jesus Loves Me Daycare Center on Thomas Street notified parents about 2:30 p.m. that emergency officials had ordered the shutdown.

Huron Smith Oil Company owner Don Smith said that the gasoline leaked undetected from a small supply hose and apparently found its way into the sandy soil beneath. The odor of gasoline was more noticeable near Crowson’s Store, across a large diagonal block from the bulk plant, leading emergency management officials to begin their investigation along Van Voris and Pearson.

Smith said that oil company employees and emergency officials had inspected the area and pipes around the plant’s raised storage tanks when they returned for another look and found the leak.

The soil beneath the leak appeared “just a little wet,” Smith said. He said the thought that the gasoline then found its way through the porous soil to a crack that allowed entrance into a sewer pipe.

At mid-afternoon Thursday, Smith was meeting with officials of the United States Environmental Service (USES) to address the “safety issue first,” and then plan the assessment and recovery.

Panola County Emergency Management Director Daniel Cole said USES is under contract with the state to manage clean-up efforts.

Local officials sought advice from USES and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality officials about how best to flush potentially explosive gasoline fumes from sewer pipes.

Fire Chief Tim Taylor and fire department officers met with sewer treatment plant operator David Karr and city workers early Thursday afternoon to plan the operation to remove gasoline fumes from the sewer lines. The men discussed the diameters of various pipes in the system.

“You’re going to have to fill it up,” Karr said of flushing the vapors from the lines.

Taylor said that he hoped to be able to transfer the water directly from the fire hydrants into manholes. He said the using the fire hoses from trucks would delay the vehicles’ ability to respond quickly to fires.

About 4 p.m. Thursday, the firemen and municipal workers were nearly ready to begin the flushing, Jones said. He said that he was unable to estimate how long the operation would take. Officers were going door-to-door in the area to warn about the gasoline smell and the possibility of fumes. The officers left flyers at homes where no one answered their knocks, he said.

Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey said that a small amount of gasoline seepage into the sewer system was first noticed late Wednesday afternoon at the sewage treatment plant.

Thursday morning city workers found that gasoline had accumulated in a lift station on Martin Luther King Street and notified the mayor.

“I told them we needed to get everybody,” Autrey said.

By mid-morning Batesville firemen and equipment, officials of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Batesville police, Cole, Panola Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright and the mayor were conferring near the Van Voris and Pearson Street intersections, awaiting USES’s arrival.