Hundreds evacuated after ammonia leaks from plant in Connecticut

Tuesday, October 14th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ELLINGTON, Conn. (AP) _ A leak at a juice company sent a cloud of ammonia over town early Tuesday, leading to the evacuation of about 1,000 people.

The leak from a tank was reported about 2 a.m. at the Natural Country Farms plant and wasn't plugged until around seven hours later, officials said.

The leak developed after a 2-inch pipe flange came loose in an area where 8,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia, used as a refrigerant, is stored, fire officials said. Crews in chemical protection suits were sent in to stop the leak.

``It's going to clean itself up once we ventilate,'' Assistant Fire Chief Gary Feldman said. ``It's not like an oil spill, where we've got a bunch of gunk to clean up. It's just going to dissipate.''

Environmental tests found that even in areas of heavy concentrations of the ammonia, the gas didn't reach a level considered dangerous, officials said.

Earlier, police knocked on doors in this northeastern Connecticut town to notify people of the leak. About 1,000 people left their homes; some decided to stay and were allowed to do so.

Among the evacuees were Diana Gamage and her two children, age 15 and 12.

``I thought the house was on fire. I opened the door and saw all the firefighters standing there. That's the first thing I thought,'' Gamage said.

One plant employee was taken to a hospital for treatment and four residents with pre-existing medical conditions were taken to hospitals as a precaution, Feldman said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection had people at the scene and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had been notified, he said.