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Officials in OK Town Urge Evacuation amid Leak

Fri, 03/02/2012 - 4:41am
KATIE FRETLAND,Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — 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 fuel storage 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 plant spilled, causing propane to vaporize. The company, ONEOK Inc., insisted the air levels posed no risk to the public.

"The issue is propane will settle in low-lying areas," Medford City Manager Dea Kretchmar said. "If there is any kind of spark or ignition then it would be flammable and could start a fire."

Video from KWTV News showed white gas spewing into the air from the well.

Investigators were determining how the leak happened. ONEOK spokesman Megan Washbourne said air levels were safe for breathing and were not a risk for fires,

"We don't think it is necessary (to evacuate), but if that changes we will of course communicate that," Washbourne said.

Shortly before 5 p.m., none of the some 1,000 residents of Medford, located near the Kansas border and about 2.5 miles north of the plant, had checked into a shelter set up in nearby Wakita, Kretchmar said.

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

The leak shut down U.S. 81 in Medford, the major highway in the area. Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokesman Cole Hackett said the highway will not reopen before Thursday night or Friday morning.

Town leaders cited the wind shift in advising residents to leave.

"Just be prepared to be evacuated for a couple of days," American Red Cross spokesman Rusty 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."

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