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9,000 gallons of liquid butane spilled as tanker truck overturns

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Location of Colorado within the United States.

A semi-tractor carrying 9,000 gallons (34,000 litres) of liquid butane overturned at the weekend on the United States highway 50 east of Salida, Colorado, rupturing the tank and spilling its contents.

The road was closed to traffic for 20 hours during one of the busiest times of the year, and traffic rerouted along a three-hour diversion route.

Colorado State Patrol reports state the driver, Roger Meely, 62, was hauling a pressurised tank full of butane when he lost control and crashed near Mile Marker 228. Colorado State Patrol Sgt. William Holt described the accident, “He lost control of the vehicle in the curves, veered across the lanes and rolled it." Meely was treated and released from the Heart of the Rockies hospital in Salida after the crash, but escaped serious injury.

The truck rolled at about 6:50 p.m. six miles from Salida, prompting closure of the highway. Although the driver escaped unharmed, 10-15 homes and an unknown number of campsites along the Arkansas River were evacuated as fumes began to drift downstream towards the town of Swissvale. Rafters were ordered away from the area, but Hazmat crews were able to prevent butane from contaminating the river.

Emergency workers were forced to allow the butane to vent itself through the night. Capt. Jack Cowert of the Colorado State Patrol said, "I would say those of us on scene were surprised it didn't explode."

In total, the following organisations responded: the Colorado State Patrol Hazardous Materials Unit, South Arkansas Fire Protection District, Howard Volunteer Fire Department, Arkansas Valley Ambulance, Chaffee County Emergency Services, Alpine Towing and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Cquote1.svg The driver either wasn’t paying attention or he was driving too fast Cquote2.svg

—William Holt, Colorado State Patrol

An attempt was made at 9:00 a.m. Monday to right the tanker and tow it away, but in the process of securing it to the tow truck it slipped and a dolly axle buckled, further lengthening the delay.

The road was not reopened until 3:10 p.m. Monday. Sheila Johnson, a flagger working for Alpine Towing, later said of the commuters affected that they were mostly understanding, saying of them, "For the most part people were pretty good about the road being closed,".

Holt blamed the driver for the accident, saying he “will be cited for something,” and that “anytime a crash like this happens, the driver either wasn’t paying attention or he was driving too fast.” It was later determined that the driver's excessive speed was to blame. He was ultimately charged over the incident.

The incident sparked a full review evaluating the emergency response, which included about ten agencies.

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