Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

January 11, 2014

Citizens helping victims of chemical spill in Elk

CHARLESTON — After distributing 7,000 gallons of water in a two-hour period Friday evening, Jimmy Gianato, director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said he was tired, but at the same time, inspired.

“The response has been incredible,” Gianato said. “The governor (Earl Ray Tomblin) set up a food and water drop-off place here at the Capitol, but it turned into a distribution site. We have plenty of soldiers with the National Guard here, some additional troops, folks from the county, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) personnel, and volunteers here to help.

“The lines stretched back to where you couldn’t see the end, but everyone got what they needed,” Gianato said. “To me, it was just another example of West Virginians helping West Virginians. I’ve been through several challenging events, but one thing has been constant — West Virginians helping West Virginians.”

The spill from Freedom Industry Inc.’s Etowah River plant on the Elk River in Charleston hasn’t stopped, Gianato said. “The tank that leaked is empty,” Giananto said, adding that all of the 4-methylclohexane methanol has been pumped out. “But we’re still seeing the product in the water.”

Gianato said that emergency management personnel could not deploy containment booms like the ones used in most situations involving spills. “The product is real soluble in water. You can’t really remove it from the water.” He said emergency responders are conducting frequent water sampling above the West Virginia American Water intake and below to monitor the situation. In the meantime, supplies are flowing into the region.

“After that first night, a lot of people went out and bought up all of the available water,” Gianato said. “We worked to get water buffalos (mobile water storage containers) to communities in the nine-county region. Here at the Capitol, we gave out 7,000 gallons of water in just two hours. The governor has one million liters of water coming in tonight, and we’ll keep bringing another million liters in every night as long as we need it.”

Gianato said emergency personnel in the state recently trained for a similar scenario during an exercise at the Bluestone Dam. “I think the training really helped us on this situation,” he said. “We’re in good shape for now, but we’re not done.”

He said that the morale among the emergency responders is good, and he expressed appreciation for the support from people throughout the state. “It’s the way West Virginians are,” he said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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