Chlorine gas leak prompts late-night panic

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A dangerous chorline gas leak prompts evacuations, but some Lincoln County families say the communication breakdown that followed may have caused more harm than the leak.

The chorline leak began at the Stanford water purification plant around 1:00am. Officials say emergency management and hazmat teams urged everyone within a four mile radius to evacuate, but some say they didn't get the message.

Ernest Gooch had a scary night when he realized police were evacuating homes just down the road from his own house. "We all could have been carried out of here in body bags," Gooch said.

Emergency responders insist that was never a possibility, but Gooch's fear along with that of many of his neighbors was very real when mixed signals led to confusion over whether their homes were affected and what they should do. "They told us that, yes, it was strongly advised that everyone in the area of Blue Lick and Boneyville leave." Kendra Hocker says that was the response she got when she called 911 around 2:30 in the morning to ask about her mother's home. "We called (her cousin) Maurice, and we called Ernest Gooch, and everybody else we could possibly think of."

"We didn't know anything about it," Maurice Napier said, "and the only thing I know is they're on the phone calling me hysterical, hollering." That prompted Napier to drive to his father's home in the same area.

"I hadn't heard a thing until my son called me and told me I'm heading out there to pick you up," Maurice's father Cecil Napier said, "and I said, for what? He said it's a gas leak out there."

Police say the chlorine levels were minimal, and they're convinced that no one was ever in any life-threatening danger, but at the time many nearby didn't know what to think. "At that time, we were worried because we didn't know that," Hocker said.

Police had begun knocking on doors within a four-mile radius of the plant urging evacuations, but many neighbors just outside that radius say calls to 911 led them to believe they too were in danger. Now they say they're grateful that no one was hurt in the process, but the incident shows a need for better communication in the future.

Hazmat crews contained the leak within about three hours. Stanford Police say water plant officials are investigating what exactly caused the leak and how to prevent it from happening again.

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