CPSO: Re-entry 5 days after gas leak running smoothly

UPDATE: Emergency responders conducting the re-entry say the operation has gone smoothly and more quickly than expected.  As a result, they say they are able to relocate residents ahead of schedule, so if you have an afternoon re-entry appointment, you are encouraged to report now to Fire Station 22 on Southern Loop.  If you have not yet scheduled your appointment, you are encouraged to report now.

UPDATE: Emergency officials will meet with remaining evacuated residents Friday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. at the Clarion Hotel to discuss the situation in South Caddo Parish.  42 families have not been allowed to return home out of concern that the EXCO well site is still not stable enough since Monday's gas leak.

By Carolyn Roy – bio|email|Twitter

SOUTH CADDO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Re-entry into the South Caddo Parish area residents were forced to evacuate last week is moving right along, according to Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office spokesperson Cindy Chadwick.

Since the re-entry operation began Friday morning at 9:00 a.m., Chadwick says 43 homes had been cleared by noon, and 38 more have the potential to go home today.

About 42 families were evacuated in the early morning hours on Monday as a precaution, after natural gas vapors were detected at an EXCO drill site near Norris Ferry Road.  That evacuation was expanded to include about 80 more families, after testing of samples from area water wells detected the presence of potentially explosive vapors believed to be ethane and methane (natural gas) in the groundwater.  They say ethane and methane are not toxic to humans, but pose the risk of causing an explosion if allowed to build up in an enclosed space, like a home.  Use of water in a home, including flushing the toilet or running a tap, can agitate the water, stirring up and releasing the vapors.  That's why officials warned residents who ignored the evacuation advisory to at least not to use the water or use any open flames in their homes.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, along with the Department of Health and Hospitals worked all week monitoring all the wells within a 5 mile radius of the well site.  On Thursday, in-depth water quality testing requested by the DEQ came back negative for toxic contaminants.  With those results in hand, Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator on Thursday announced the residents would be allowed to return, but warned that the DHH had not yet cleared the water for consumption.  But by midday Friday, additional "extensive screening" results came back clear and the "do not use" advisory was lifted.

As part of the re-entry process, residents are being escorted to their homes with a team that includes a DEQ representative to test the air in the home for the presence of volatile vapors.  So far, none have been found.

While Chadwick says the re-entry process has been running smoothly and with little or no wait for returning residents to be paired up with testing teams, officials are asking those are not local residents and do not have an immediate need to be in the area to avoid the Southern Loop by taking an alternate route.

Not everyone is going home just yet, however.  The re-entry process will not include more than 40 households within a half-mile radius of the EXCO well site.  Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator said Thursday afternoon that the site was still not stable enough to allow their return. The four streets affected include Willow Ridge Rd., Cypress Garden Rd., DeBroecke St. and Norris Ferry extension.

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