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Industrial Plant Fire Forces Mass Evacuation

Officials urge 16,000 to leave a Raleigh, N.C., suburb after a chlorine cloud forms.

October 06, 2006|From the Associated Press

APEX, N.C. — Authorities asked about 16,000 residents to evacuate this Raleigh suburb early today after a hazardous-material fire at an industrial plant.

No injuries were immediately reported, although a spokeswoman for Rex Hospital in Raleigh said the facility expected to receive as many as 11 people needing oxygen.

Officials said the fire started Thursday night at EQ Industrial Services, a hazardous-waste business that Town Manager Bruce Radford said contained a variety of volatile chemicals, including chlorine.

Radford said that when he arrived at the plant, a chlorine cloud rose 50 feet in the air. He estimated that 20 to 30 explosions had occurred.

"This is truly awful," he said early today. "It is the worst potential hazardous-materials fire that you can expect."

The evacuation order generally covered the west side of Apex, about 10 miles southwest of Raleigh. Authorities opened a shelter at an elementary school on the town's east side, and Radford said it would be safe to take shelter at hotels in nearby Cary.

He said classes at Apex schools would be canceled.

Radford said some residents who live near the fire had not heeded the evacuation order. He begged them to get away from what he called a "black, smoky cloud" that was covering downtown Apex.

"They are taking their own lives at risk," Radford said. "They are putting themselves in very grave danger by being around this smoke."

The fire forced officials to evacuate the town's 911 center and Fire Department.

"We're not even being able to get close to it because of the heat and the contaminate materials," Radford said.

"I've been hearing what sounds like fireworks -- popping sounds," said Gabrielle Fisher, 25, an Apex resident who lives about a mile from the blaze site. "I don't know where I'm going, but I'm getting out of here,"

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