Ammonia plume dissipates in Ft. Pierce; residents allowed back home

Story by Jana Eschbach / CBS 12 NEWS

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – A poisonous gas pouring into the air sent three to the hospital and forced an evacuation of hundreds of homes.

Tonight that leak is contained.

The gas leak was ammonia, and it was strong enough to send 3 people to the hospital.

The leak came from a refrigeration trailer at Atlantic Coast Recycling Center on Avenue D, causing a 10-block region to be evacuated.

Thomas Minor, a worker at the recycling center where it happened was one of the victims exposed to the deadly gas.

“It cut off my breathing. I couldn’t breathe or do anything but run. I know what ammonia smells and tastes like and I just ran,” said Thomas Minor, a scale operator at the recycling center. He knew he was in trouble. “The second I breathed it in and ran. The second it happened. It contaminated the whole area in seconds.”

Ammonia with one whiff can make your lungs freeze up and even cause death.

“I’m still coughing and they gave me that breathing treatment, they wanted to make sure I’m alright. They wanted to make sure my chest was okay. Didn’t want to take no chances and they made me go,” Thomas said.

Workers at Atlantic Coast Recycling center smelled the harmful odor before noon and ran.

Within minutes, the entire area surrounding 33rd Street and Avenue D were shut down.

During the evacuation, all schools in the proximity were under lockdown, and all those at their homes were told by police to get out.

“The library is just down the road here and I was going to drop some books off. They are not letting me through. They say the whole area’s been evacuated,” said John Procter, a library patron, not allowed to pass through Avenue D.

Nothing in Fort Pierce caught fire, just a plume hovering over the area was confined to the recycling center.

“It’s in a vapor form and it caused a small plume,” said Sgt. Melissa Jacques from Ft. Pierce Police.

Hazmat teams tried but failed to seal the leak.

“It becomes a waiting game and fortunately ammonia does dissipates into the environment. How long that takes, it could be an hour. It could be 5 hours from now,” Sgt. Jacques told CBS 12. The neighborhood opened 4 hours later, when Fire Rescue Hazmat specialists confirmed the area was safe.

Tonight, Thomas says his lungs are still tight from the exposure. “I was 50 yards away from the initial exposure and I come out and I couldn’t breathe. I hollered everybody run and ran across the street. It scared me because I have had a heart attack before and bronchial problems. Now, I just have to wait and see.”Ammonia plume dissipates in Ft. Pierce; residents allowed back home

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