Chemical Fire at Perdue Forces Evacuations at Accomac Plant

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By Linda Cicoira
Heavy smoke blew northwest into the sky from tanks where chemical explosions occurred at around 3 p.m., Wednesday, at Perdue Farms, in Accomac, while hundreds of employees were evacuated and others were kept from starting their shifts.
“We can confirm a fire outside of our Accomac facility,” Danielle Tergis, of Perdue Corporate Communications, said Wednesday night. “Out of an abundance of caution we have evacuated the facility. There are no reported injuries. The cause of the fire is under investigation.”
Tergis released a statement Thursday, in which she said the incident had been resolved and the plant was back in operation.
Accomack County used its Code Red Alert System to call landlines in the nearby communities and notify people by cellphone who had signed up for the service. They were told to stay inside and avoid the smoke.
Accomack County Public Safety workers, volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel from six local companies, and hazmat experts responded. Some stayed on the scene for hours waiting for the fire to go out as it couldn’t be battled in the usual manner. No injuries were reported.
Across Lankford Highway where others were renovating the former B&G Market, witnesses said they heard two loud explosions. The parking lot there was filled with plant employees dressed for work with nowhere to go. Tractor-trailers loaded with live chickens were also parked. The chickens peeked out of their cages. There was no food and water for them in sight. The birds were recently taken away from the cooling units in their modern houses and the heatwave exacerbated the situation.
On Facebook, people shared the news, prayed, inquired about fellow employees, and speculated about the dangers and the financial loss.
County supervisors were preparing for their monthly meeting and Chairman Donald Hart started the session with a brief report.
“Two tanks caught on fire which are both near a fuel tank,” Hart said. “They are worried about that now. You cannot put water on the chemicals or they will explode.” Hart reported that one tank contained peracetic acid and the other contained sodium chloride.
County Administrator Mike Mason said Thursday morning that both contained peracetic acid. A third party will handle clean up, he said, but didn’t know who that would be.
“They are monitoring the air on the north side, telling people not to go outside. (It is) not a situation where it will cause death but could do other damage. It’s going to be hours. The place has been evacuated. We have to wait … We’re in the middle of a hazmat situation if anything happens Mike (Mason) and I may have to leave.”

Hart is also the county director of emergency services. Public Safety Director C. Ray Pruitt was already on the scene, Hart said.
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