FUEL oil, propane tanks become safety hazard after record floods in West Virginia

Monday, July 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Hundreds of fuel oil and propane tanks damaged in record floods that battered southern West Virginia earlier this month are ticking time bombs that threaten public safety, state officials said Sunday.

``Propane, whether in the small bottles or a 200 gallon tank, is very dangerous,'' said Steve Kappa, director of the state Office of Emergency Service. ``Those tanks are lodged all over the place so we have to police them up.''

Hazardous material teams with the Environmental Protection Agency were to begin arriving Monday to start cleaning up, Bill Adams, general counsel with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said during a Sunday evening briefing with Gov. Bob Wise.

In the Rhodell area of Raleigh County alone, where one out of every two homes rely on fuel oil for heat, crews will likely encounter at least 150 damaged tanks, Kappa said.

Fuel oil contamination threatens not only public safety, but also can cause health problems such as headaches and breathing difficulty, said Dr. Henry Taylor, director of state Public Health.

``That is a definite public health hazard,'' Taylor said. ``Not only because of the safety of the building and the potential problems of the building, but fuel oil is permeating the semi-rotten wood. It's a very serious situation and we do not recommend people live where fuel oil was once used.''

The situation heightens the need for temporary housing, Wise said.

``We're going to have, conservatively, 1,500, perhaps as many as 2,500 homes destroyed in some way,'' Wise said. ``It's important that people constantly see motion and improvement. I want them to know as they have gotten out of their houses or cleaned them out that we are working with them to find them secure housing.''

Twenty-five mobile homes were to arrive in Beckley on Monday and be delivered to flood victims as early as Tuesday, Kappa said.

``The first wave of trailers will go to individual sites where they've tried to stay on their property to do repairs because water and electricity is likely already on the property for hookups,'' he said.

While early estimates put flood damage at about $20 million, Wise said Sunday that that figure is too low.

``We will spend alone $8 to 10 million in the next several weeks on the National Guard,'' he said. ``We are going to spend whatever we have to spend to get this part of the state moving again.''

Across southern West Virginia's coalfields, some 3,500 homes were damaged or swept away during July 8's record floods. Two people were killed.