Calls to evacuate came hours after leak's discovery

Kyle Torreyson, a Red Cross volunteer, waits outside the Boyd Hill Recreation Center to help people who chose to evacuate the area near Mondays chlorine dioxide leak.
Kyle Torreyson, a Red Cross volunteer, waits outside the Boyd Hill Recreation Center to help people who chose to evacuate the area near Mondays chlorine dioxide leak.

A chlorine dioxide leak at the Rock Hill water treatment plant Monday morning forced some nearby residents to evacuate and kept dozens of businesses closed for several hours.

As many as 1,500 people in almost 600 residences southwest of the plant at Cherry and Mount Gallant roads were asked to evacuate by a reverse 911 call from emergency officials.

About 20 people, mainly elderly, went to an American Red Cross emergency shelter set up at the Boyd Hill Community Center. The shelter was originally set up at Sullivan Middle School nearer to the site, but shifting winds forced the change to Boyd Hill after 8 a.m.

Michele Boor, who lives at Eagle's Landing apartments, said she received a call around 10 a.m. to evacuate. Boor said she called the city to make sure it was not a hoax, then had to get her special needs sister ready to leave.

"I called some handicapped neighbors and told others I saw," Boor said.

She and her sister went to the Boyd Hill center, as did Barbara Stevenson, who also lives at Eagle's Landing.

"I was working at home when the call came around 9:30 or 10, and the call said I should evacuate, so I did," Stevenson said.

Both Boor and Stevenson said that if the leak happened at 4:30 a.m. as city officials have said, residents should have received an evacuation call sooner. The emergency center closed when the evacuation was lifted after 1 p.m.

Larry Stevens, who said he lives in the evacuated area, waited in a parking lot at the blocked intersection of Cherry Road and Deas Street. Kathleen Hunter, who lives nearby, said she left home around 9:30 a.m. only to find the road blocked when she came back. But Hunter said she didn't know anything about a chlorine dioxide leak.

Cherry Road south from Riverview Road to Cherry Park was closed for a few hours, quieting that normally busy commercial stretch.

No signs, merchant says

Byron Rowe, who runs Checks America south of Love's Plaza, said he was at work at 8:15 a.m. when he found out about the leak. The closure cost him business, he said, but he is concerned that he was allowed in the area. There should have been signs and officials along Cherry Road advising people what was going on and where to get more information, Rowe said.

"I was at work at my desk and was not told anything," Rowe said.

Ralph Lewis, who works at the Auto Zone on Cherry Road, said he was at the store about 8:30 a.m. with other employees when they were told by emergency officials that the wind had shifted and they should leave. Unlike most businesses, Auto Zone was able to send its employees to another location on Main Street.

"We left so fast that we didn't even get a chance to put a sign on the door," Lewis said. "It's more of an inconvenience than anything."

Linda Griffin and her husband own The Treehouse clothing store and Kidz Shoe House in the affected part of Cherry Road. Griffin heard from her husband before heading to the store that the road was closed, so she called three employees to tell them not to go to work.

The road closures, with the exception of a stretch of Mount Gallant Road adjacent to the plant, ended after 1 p.m. By mid-afternoon, most businesses along the road were open.