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Chemical leak prompts evacuation of thousands in Canton, closes 5 schools

Beacon Journal staff report

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Residents were evacuated from a roughly 20-block section in the northeast corner of Canton Monday after a fire in a closed factory.

The fire department was called to the former Convoy Containers at 1811 20th St. NE at 2:03 p.m.

Battalion Chief Tom Garra said firefighters were greeted by a cloud of white smoke indicating some type of chemical leak or reaction inside of the structure.

Firefighters trained in handling dangerous materials were called in as were other departments to assist in the evacuation and quelling of the fire.

At 7:45 p.m., air monitors at the scene detected sulfur dioxide at a rate of 53 parts per million. Garra said this posed a concern because the gas is considered hazardous at 100 parts per million.

Residents in a several block wide area from 22nd Street NE to 4th Street NE were evacuated and offered shelter at Crenshaw Middle School then at the Memorial Civic Center.

Ward 9 Councilman Frank Morris said he estimated there could be as many as 7,000 residents impacted by the evacuations.

Five schools near the evacuated area canceled Tuesday classes. Morris said several business also closed.

American Red Cross shelter manager Tom Mehaffie said about 100 people took advantage of the shelter at the Civic Center after it opened.

As the evening went on, Mehaffie said, more and more residents trickled in.

Volunteers are setting up cots in case residents have to spend the night.

“A lot of people end up going in with their relatives,” he said.

It is not known how long residents will be evacuated,

“Until we get a neutralizer, we can’t get it [put] out,” Garra said,

Convoy Containers had ceased operations at the plant in May 2011, according to its website.


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