Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Phillips Begins Slow Release of Propane from 51 Tanks

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Phillips Begins Slow Release of Propane from 51 Tanks

Article excerpt

As hundreds of evacuated residents waited anxiously Saturday, Phillips Pipeline Co. started a risky plan to release inflammable gas from pipes connecting 51 propane tanks near the flooding River Des Peres.

Beginning Sunday, divers will spend two days easing the gas into the water. Officials hope the 80 gallons of propane will slowly evaporate. They also hope the tanks will withstand the pressure of the floodwater.

And they hope the threat of an explosion soon will pass and nearby residents can return home.

"We're going to let the pressure out of the pipes so, if they break, the gas will remain safe in the tanks," said Rob Phillips, spokesman for Phillips. "Even if the tanks break free, there isn't enough current for them to float out of the area they're in."

Even after the divers do their work, residents within a half-mile radius of Phillips' station, at 8722 South Broadway, may be at risk, officials said.

Propane is a inflammable gas that is stored as a liquid under pressure. When it leaks, it becomes gas again. Emergency officials fear the propane may leak so fast that it may ignite from the friction and explode. Another concern is that it could form a cloud that might be ignited by electricity or chemicals.

On Friday, floodwater tore 23 of the propane tanks from their moorings at the station and forced the immediate evacuation of residents within a half-mile of the tanks.

By Saturday, 48 of the 51 were tanks were loose and bobbing up and down in the water. Each tank was suspended only by two 3-inch pipes, filled with pressurized gas. Some valves and pipes were leaking.

Two divers began emptying the pipes about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, but they had to stop within 10 minutes when a storm hit. They were to begin again early Sunday.

Phillips has donated $40,000 to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and St. Louis to help cover some of the evacuation costs.

Tim Taylor, president of Phillips Pipeline Co., said the station first flooded in early July. At that time, officials filled the tanks to add weight and wrapped each end of each tank with cables to hold the tanks in place. It didn't work.

Saturday afternoon, St. Louis Police Chief Clarence Harmon told residents, "This has real potential for disaster. One question you as residents have to ask is why this stuff is stored so close to residential areas."

Most of the homeless residents already were asking that question.

"A fire official told me two weeks ago that he was terrified this might blow," said Paul Heidbrier, a resident who last was home Friday morning. "They've known about this for a while. Why didn't they put that stuff on trucks and move it out of here?"

That's what Barbara Reeg wanted to know. She stood on a sidewalk, almost near enough to touch her brick two-story at the corner of South Broadway and Poepping Street. …

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