Officials in Okla. town urge evacuation amid leak

AP News
Posted: Mar 01, 2012 6:32 PM
Officials in Okla. town urge evacuation amid leak

Residents of a small Oklahoma town were urged to evacuate Thursday as propane leaked for a third straight day out of a well at a hydrocarbon plant, and officials feared there could be a fire hazard if strong winds carry the vapor into town.

The leak began Tuesday night when a saltwater brine mixture used to move the propane out of a well at the ONEOK plan spilled onto the ground, causing propane to vaporize. The company insisted the air levels posed no risk to the public and disagreed with the town's evacuation recommendation.

"We don't think it is necessary, but if that changes we will of course communicate that," ONEOK spokesman Megan Washbourne said.

It wasn't immediately clear how many of the some 1,000 residents of Medford, located near the Kansas border and about 2.5 miles north of the plant, were heeding the recommendation to leave. Residents were urged to bring essential items such as clothes and medication and relocate to the nearby town of Wakita, where a shelter was being set up, American Red Cross spokesman Rusty Surette said.

The leak shut down U.S. 81 in north-central Oklahoma. Town leaders advised residents to relocate because of the wind shift.

"Just be prepared to be evacuated for a couple of days," Surette said. "We don't know if that is how long it is going to take but better to be safe than sorry and be prepared for a couple days."

Medford City Manager Dea Kretchmar said despite the evacuation recommendation, city officials were staying in the town to "man all the phones and get the notices out."

Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokesman Cole Hackett said the highway will remain shut down at least through the day Thursday and will not reopen before Thursday night or Friday morning.