A Hope, Arkansas Walmart is back open for business after a chemical leak from a tanker truck in the parking lot forced an evacuation late Tuesday night.
"We are fixing to open it up. We are going to escort it out to the airport," an Arkansas Highway Police officer said about the source of their mid-morning problem, a leaking tanker truck.
The Walmart in the 2400 block of N. Hervey Street near I-30 reopened at 11 a.m. Wednesday, 12 hours after employees first reported the odor of ammonia and called authorities just before 10 p.m.
"The police officer smelled it and I smelled it when I got here. They could hear a hissing sound that indicated some kind of vapor was coming out," says Jessica Hardin with Hempstead County Emergency Management.
An Airgas tanker truck carrying anhydrous ammonia headed to the SWEPCO plant in Fulton had pulled into the parking lot of the 24-hour megastore for the night.
First responders smelled it right away when they arrived as well, and the store and parking lot was evacuated. The leak was confirmed as coming from a valve on the top of the tank containing the chemical, which can rapidly cause dehydration and severe burns if it combines with water in the body.
When released, the vapors initially move close to the ground, causing greater risk for exposure.
"It can cause respiratory problems. It's a poison by inhalation, anhydrous ammonia, and it is also toxic to the skin," explains Highway Police Capt. Mike Cash.
No one was injured but the employees had a long wait before things went back to normal.
Hope police and fire responded to the scene, as well as Hempstead County Emergency Management officials and Arkansas Highway Patrol.
Everyone was kept a safe distance of at least 300 feet from the leaking tanker while authorities awaited the arrival of another truck, so that the chemical could be transferred and removed from the area.
That process was finished late Wednesday morning, and the now empty leaking tanker was taken 3 miles to the airport for a more detailed inspection.
Because the accident happened on private property, "there won't be any citations. We are doing an inspection on the vehicle at this time," Cash says.
Airgas operates in Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.
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