Tue, Oct 24th 2017 01:25 pm
Fashion Outlets, Wegmans and other businesses closed temporarily
By David Yarger
On Monday night, an Air Products tanker truck carrying refrigerated hydrogen crashed in the parking lot of the Wegmans on Military Road in the Town of Niagara around 10 p.m. The tanker began to leak the hydrogen gas and first responders ended up blocking off every entrance onto Military Road from Niagara Falls Boulevard to Fashion Outlets Boulevard and Third Avenue.
Refrigerated hydrogen gas is very dangerous, as it is flammable and can cause instant and severe frostbite.
Along with the road closing, local businesses were evacuated and closed for the remainder of Tuesday. Stores including Wegmans and the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls were included on the list of closures.
The Fashion Outlets said in a press release Tuesday, "At the request from local authorities, Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, USA has evacuated and will be closed for business on Tuesday, Oct. 24 to allow for an effective clean-up of the hazmat situation on Military Road.
While the Fashion Outlets property is not in direct contact with the leak, the safety of our guests and retailers is our top priority. We are actively cooperating with Niagara Falls Emergency Services and look forward to re-opening tomorrow."
In an automated message from Wegmans, the company said, "Due to a hazmat situation, our store is currently closed. We hope to re-open later this evening. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes."
According to nyalert.gov, shelter was put in place for citizens living close to the hazmat area from Niagara Falls Boulevard to Third Avenue.
The Niagara County Sheriff's Office said in a release, "The Niagara County Sheriff's Office, along with the New York State Police and Niagara Falls Police are assisting the Town of Niagara Police and Niagara Active Fire Department with a hazardous material incident on Military Road in the Town of Niagara. They are suggesting residents to shelter in place at this time for the following streets: Military Road from Third Avenue to Niagara Falls Boulevard, Richmond Avenue, Jane Drive, Carol Court, Tuscarora Road from Effie to Homestead and Homestead Avenue.
"If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. Currently the situation is under control. The following roads are closed and traffic should be diverted. Military road, between Third Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard and all of Richmond Avenue. Please monitor our social media platforms in addition to local media outlets for any updates."
Along with local businesses, the Niagara Falls International Airport has been closed due to precautionary reasons.
As of 2:30 p.m., crews were still working to remove the tanker truck. A tow truck was able to move the tanker off the light pole slightly, so crews could maneuver the truck safely.
Crews plugged the leak earlier, but the big concern was whether that plug would come undone if the pole scraped the side of the truck. The reported plan is for the hydrogen from the crashed tanker to be transported to another truck.
At 2:45 p.m., another truck arrived at the Wegmans plaza to try and transport the hydrogen from the crashed truck to the recently arrived truck. As of 5 p.m., work was still being done on the tanker in the parking lot.
At a 4 p.m. press conference, Niagara County Fire Coordinator and Director of Emergency Services Jonathan Schultz spoke to the media on the ongoing situation at the Wegmans plaza. He began saying, "At this time, we're working with the specialty crew in town that's looking at the material inside the trailer and what we're going to do moving forward. At this time, we're working with the crew, hazmat and the response team, basically going over safety checks on the vessel; working on going through and making sure everything looks good in anticipation what we're going to be working forward to this afternoon into the evening."
Schultz said the emergency is still in effect. Shelter is there for residents within a 1,500-foot radius of the site. Road closures and business closures are also still in effect.
In relation to the speed of the cleanup, Schultz said, "It's going slow. It's a hazmat incident and unfortunately nothing happens fast. We could be hours and, at this point, I don't want to say two to four hours. We could be here six to eight more hours as we go forward. It's all about the safety of our first responders and all about the safety of the residents living in our area."
Schultz gave a special shout-out to first responders, some of whom had been on scene since late Monday night.
Schultz said the biggest challenge was faced when crews were able to get the tanker off the surface that the light pole was on. Crews, then after, were tasked with running multiple mandatory safety checks to make sure everything is safe on the vehicle. Schultz said there was no more leaking to report.
The scene is under further investigation, but the report, so far, is the driver was looking to turn around in the parking lot when the vehicle struck the light standard. The two drivers, who work in shifts, were not injured in the accident. Schultz said the driver and the company's response crew have been very cooperative in the investigation.
Schultz said the scenario is something that's looked over and prepared for constantly, and the real-world situation on Monday and Tuesday is a big step for preparation toward future scenarios.
"These are things that we look at all the time. We look at these tanker issues and challenges that we're faced with and these crews work a lot on them. Some people may question what's taking so long, but it's all about the safety," he said. "It's a great opportunity to bring all the law enforcement, fire, EMS and hazmat, together and training and working together in these situations to be better prepared."
UPDATE: A little before 6 p.m., police announced shelter would be lifted and Schultz said they're hoping roads should be open around 7 p.m. Roads opened in the 6 o'clock hour.
Earlier in the day, Schultz and crew went door to door notifying residents that shelter was recommended, but not mandatory. Schultz also announced crews are in the process of depressurizing the tanker.
In terms of business activity, Walmart and Sam's Club did open to the public Tuesday, but Walmart was expected to close at 4 p.m.
Wegmans announced the Military Road location would reopen at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
In a statement Tuesday evening, the company wrote, "The safety of our customers and employees is our first priority and we appreciate the quick action of emergency crews, who have been working tirelessly during the night and throughout the day to address the hazmat situation in our parking lot."
The Wegmans parking lot is still an active scene.
After the road was re-opened, only a few businesses opted to re-open for the night.
Updates will be publishe as they are received by Niagara Frontier Publications.