Authorities blew two holes in a tanker truck containing isobutane just before midnight Wednesday, igniting a huge fireball as they prepared to move the damaged rig from the accident scene on Interstate 10 near Essen Lane. Interstate 10 reopened in both directions by 6:45 a.m. Thursday morning.
Authorities evacuated residents within 500 yards of the accident prior to the controlled “vent and burn.” .
Traffic in the capital city was snarled throughout the day after both the eastbound and westbound lanes were closed on I-10 between Essen and Bluebonnet Boulevard following the accident, which occurred at 3:40 a.m.
The truck was carrying 8,700 gallons of isobutane.
The decision to do a “vent and burn” was made after consulting with experts on how best to remove the damaged rig, Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson said.
He said the vent and burn process went “pretty much as expected.”
Several organizations, including State Police, Baton Rouge Police, the Baton Rouge Fire Department and the state Department of Environmental Quality, had to sign off on the procedure, he said.
Edmonson said authorities hoped to re-open the interstate by 6 a.m. Thursday.
In related developments Wednesday:
- Two people involved in the accident were hospitalized with minor injuries.
- Traffic on Airline Highway and Florida Boulevard was being directed as if a hurricane evacuation plan was in place, Police Chief Dewayne White said.
- The Red Cross opened a shelter for evacuated residents at the Nairn Park gymnasium, 2800 Nairn Drive, which is between College Drive and South Acadian Thruway at I-10, spokeswoman Nancy Malone said.
- East Baton Rouge Parish schools were set to begin on time Thursday with bus drivers starting their routes earlier than usual, spokesman Chris Trahan said.
- Local businesses were struggling with the logistics of moving products and materials.
Mayor-President Kip Holden said authorities still have to clean up the area after the vent and burn and the interstate will also be tested for integrity after the cleanup operations.
“This situation is one that no one has encountered before,” Holden said.
Edmonson said State Police hazardous materials teams have performed vent and burn operations in the past, including during the Livingston train derailment in 1982.
Police began evacuating about 40 homes in areas near Essen Lane at I-10 just after 9 p.m., State Police spokesman Capt. Doug Cain said.
The homes are in the Essen Heights neighborhood, Cain said. Police also evacuated the Drury Inn on Essen near the interstate and the Race Trac gasoline station nearby, Cain said.
Holden said an area of about 500 yards was evacuated.
The crash shunted approximately 100,000 vehicles onto already full surface streets in Baton Rouge, forcing officials to implement measures similar to a hurricane evacuation.
Authorities are still investigating the crash, White said, but the investigation is secondary to public safety.
The crash occurred at 3:40 a.m. when the driver of a car lost control and hit a retaining wall before overturning on I-10 east. A tanker truck behind the car had to come to a quick stop, police spokesman Cpl. L’Jean McKneely said.
The 18-wheeler behind the tanker truck also had to stop quickly, but ended up crashing into the tanker, McKneely said. The tanker’s valve system was destroyed in the crash, which caused the vapor leak.
The trailer carrying the isobutane was made before 1970, White said. Because it was made so long ago, the truck had no rear crash guard, he said.
White said traffic lights on Airline Highway and Florida Boulevard were given “a lengthy cycle” to help vehicles move more easily on those roadways.
“This one was the worst because we had no prep time,” said Ingolf Partenheimer, the city-parish’s chief traffic engineer. “With hurricanes, we had about three days prep time.”
Partenheimer said the city-parish has generic plans in place, and the traffic was being monitored from the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
“What works in one place doesn’t necessarily work in another place,” he said.
Officials can control many of the city’s traffic lights from MOHSEP but others must be set by hand, Partenheimer said, adding that emergency plans can change as needed.
A shelter-in-place in effect Wednesday at nearby Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center on Essen Lane was lifted early Thursday, said Chad Guillot, deputy director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services.
The hospital is accessible from Essen Lane via Perkins Road and Hennessy Avenue, Guillot said.
Tom Olinde, chief executive officer of Olinde’s, realized furniture deliveries might be an issue Wednesday morning when traffic jammed so badly he couldn’t get to the main store on Airline Highway and instead had to make his way to the Gonzales location.
Fortunately, the collision on I-10 near Essen Lane happened early enough that Olinde’s was able to call customers and reschedule deliveries for a later date, Olinde said.
Olinde’s was among dozens of other area businesses dealing with the challenges resulting from the interstate’s closing.
Joseph South, owner of Two Men and a Truck moving company, said two of his drivers were late for work because of the I-10 wreck and traffic problems tacked two- to three-hour delays to the company’s delivery schedule.
“I don’t think you know the depth of it (the traffic) until you get out there in it,” South said.
Kaitlyn Dunn, marketing coordinator for Hungry Howie’s Pizza, said the closures and increased traffic on surface streets made it more difficult to make deliveries. But the company uses a computer system to find the fastest routes for drivers, she said.
Hungry Howie’s was also helped because it brought in extra drivers to handle additional business expected from a radio promotion.
Cox Communications spokeswoman Sharon Bethea said the company’s customers had seen “minimal impact” because of the interstate closure.
“Most of our field service technicians go directly to their first appointment from home, without coming to the office,” Bethea said. “They are routed to appointments in a fairly tight geographic area so they are not going to be driving from one end of town to another or accessing interstate frequently.”
Cox’s techs drive side and surface streets every day and usually know the quickest way to get to a location, she said.
FedEx spokeswoman Shea Leordeanu said there may be some minor delays from localized congestion, but all of the company’s locations were operating at normal capacity.
All of the company’s locations have primary delivery route plans, a backup plan, and a backup to the backup, she said.
UPS was able to complete 98 percent to 99 percent of its deliveries Wednesday, spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg said. The only exception involved the area closed near the accident.
However, UPS was able to call some customers to arrange meeting points on some routes, she said. Customers could also pick up packages until 9 p.m. Wednesday at the company’s Port Allen center.
When asked if a proposed loop around Baton Rouge would have helped, Holden said the most recent plan was for “more of a northern bypass. I’m not sure it would have helped” in this situation.
Advocate staff writers Kimberly Vetter, Ted Griggs and Will Sentell contributed to this report.
On the Internet:
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved