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Humphress: 'I will agree with him; we did get it right

Aaron Krause • Dec 17, 2013 at 5:07 PM

After Willard residents had to evacuate their homes due to a chemical spill from a CSX railcar, they were fed a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

In addition to the food, they had plenty to be thankful for, according to statements made by city manager Brian Humphress during a recent council meeting.

Humphress said the material, 1,200 gallons of styrene monomer, is meant to be stored at less than 50 degrees. Fortunately, it was in the mid-20s. With the amount of sparks flying from the highly flammable chemical, a disaster could have resulted had been summer and 95 degrees, Humphress said.

Almost 400 residences had to be evacuated due to the spill, which happened before midnight the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Humphress said people were back in their homes by mid-day Thanksgiving Day.

The city manager said city officials evacuated residents within a half-mile radius of the spill due to the concern for potential damage.

"This was a big deal," Humphress said.

He said the three hours following the spill was tense.

"We were on pins and needles for the first three hours because we didn't know what was going to happen," Humphress said, describing a scene in which officials had to bang on doors to make people aware of the situation.

Humphress told council about the governor's presence.

"I will agree with him; we did get it right," the city manager said, adding city officials might have erred a bit on the side of caution." It could have been a whole lot worse," Humphress said. "Everybody pitched in and did what they had to do."

He added that many officials stayed up for 48 hours without sleep.

He singled out CSX officials.

"CSX did, in my opinion, about as good a job as they could have."

He also said school officials responded any time city officials called them.

Willard City Schools Superintendent Jeff Ritz said he received a call early Wednesday morning from a police officer asking whether he would unlock the school. Ritz called high school principal Chris Schaaf, who was "half asleep."

"He said, 'You're not kidding me, are you'"? Ritz recalled Schaaf asking him.

Ritz commended the district's staff for manning the high school, which was used as a shelter for evacuees.

Joining them was Gov. John Kasich, who offered encouragement.

By daylight, the Environmental Protection Agency and CSX officials were monitoring the situation, specifically the air quality.

The city manager said tests have showed no infiltration of the chemical into the air or bodies of water.

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