HAMPTON, Ark. — Residents of Hampton began returning to their homes midday Friday as officials lifted evacuation orders in the southern Arkansas town after an anhydrous ammonia leak.
The evacuation had started Thursday evening after a pipeline was cut by a gravel company digging in an area east of town, officials with the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management said.
Crews spent much of the night and overnight hours shutting off the leak and continuing to evacuate residents, even calling in neighboring agencies like the El Dorado Fire Department’s hazardous materials team to help get people to safety.
Calhoun County Judge Floyd Nutt said the crews helping residents were “highly qualified” and that they were still working to monitor the situation.
Officials said the primary concern with this kind of anhydrous ammonia leak, which is used as a fertilizer by many farmers, was the toxicity of the chemical.
“It did linger on the ground all night, and they were monitoring it throughout the night,” Nutt explained.
Many of the 200 people evacuated to the Fordyce Civic Center were thankful for the quick action of crews.
“The sheriffs and police came knocking on the door telling us we need to evacuate,” evacuee Regina Murphy said. “When we went outside you could inhale it so we had to put masks on.”
“We were scared because we have kids, and my dog is still in the house right now, and I can’t go get my baby, and I’m sad because I really need to go get my baby,” Kiedrah Smith, another evacuee, added.
Evacuations continued Friday morning, with the Ouachita County Sheriff’s Office asking some residents still in their home to leave immediately, with authorities going door to door asking residents to evacuate. Drivers were also asked to stay clear of Highway 167 between El Dorado and Fordyce.
Despite the long night and early morning, the new day started to bring new fortunes as crews were able to get the pipeline shut off and Mother Nature helped clean out the leaked gas.
“The sun came up this morning, the wind started blowing and that was our friend,” Nutt said.
City officials said that even while residents were returning to their homes, much of the city, including most business and city offices, would remain closed for the rest of Friday as a safety precaution. Officials did note that banks would reopen at 1 p.m., and gas stations could also be seen servicing customers.