A Port Deposit condominium complex was evacuated and all roads into the town closed after an 18-wheeled propane tanker containing an estimated 9,000 gallons of the heavier-than-air fuel crashed into the building at about 1 p.m. Tuesday.
A small leak in the truck's tank was addressed shortly after emergency crews arrived, then they began the tedious process of extricating the driver from the wreckage, according to personnel on the scene.
It took three rotations of rescue crews to get the driver out; crews had to be rotated because of a combination of being affected by the heat of the day and the cumbersome breathing apparatus each was wearing as a precaution against any lingering propane in gas form, rescue personnel on the scene said.
The driver was pulled from the truck after two hours and was reported to be alert and talking with rescue personnel and complaining of leg pain. He was identified by police as Cowboy Dale Brown, 56, of Maplewood, Ohio.
Police said Brown was transported to Christiana Medical Center outside Wilmington, Del. The truck is owned by Farmers Propane of Medina, Ohio.
Emergency personnel on the scene said at about 4:30 p.m. they were waiting on Norfolk Southern, which owns an affected rail line near where the truck crashed, to send a pump that would be used to off-load the propane from the crashed vehicle onto a functional vehicle that was standing by. The off-loading operation was expected to take about 12 hours.
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, robo-calls were made to town residents and people living in the affected Tome's Landing condominium complex were evacuated and asked to report to town hall, about three blocks from the scene of the crash.
Owners of the evacuated condominiums were to be allowed to return to their homes to get medication and overnight bags, though it wasn't clear Tuesday afternoon where they would be staying until the all-clear was given.
The town, which has between 600 and 700 residents, was not expected to be reopened for 12 to 24 hours, town government administrative assistant Kathy Gray said.
The truck was headed down Center Street, also known both as Route 276 and Jacob Tome Highway, at about 1 p.m. when the driver lost control, overturned and skidded into the Tome's Landing waterfront complex, Gray said.
All residents in the complex were evacuated, entry into the center of town was restricted and trains on the Norfolk Southern freight line through town were stopped from coming to the area. In addition, power to some parts of town was turned off, Gray said.
Some businesses were asked to close as well, Gray said. Hazmat crews and members of the town's Water Witch Fire Company were responding to the scene. Ambulances were mobilized "just in case," she said.
Emergency officials were getting ready to extricate the truck driver at about 3 p.m. but no one appeared to be injured, she said.
"He is conscious but he was trapped," Gray said.
The truck was not leaking and did not appear to be immediately dangerous, she said.
"They are going to try to get it off into another truck," she explained.
If the truck cannot be moved, it will be burned, she said.
Emergency personnel on the scene said the driver of the truck missed his I-95 exit and ended up on Route 276, which takes traffic down a steep hill and comes to an end at Port Deposit's main intersection of Routes 276 and 222, also known, respectively, as Center and Main streets.
The truck's brakes are believed to have failed and the driver passed through the intersection of 222 and 276, crossing the Norfolk Southern rail line that runs parallel to 222, and entered the Tome's Landing complex, causing structural damage to one building, crews on the scene said.
He turned to the left to avoid driving into the Susquehanna River, causing the truck to roll onto its side.
Port Deposit Mayor Wayne Tome said building inspectors would have to check on any hazards before people could return to their homes.
"It's going to be a complex, lengthy operation," said Tome, who spoke by telephone from his job in Baltimore County around 5:30 p.m.
Tome said town residents could be expected to take evacuations and other inconveniences in stride.
"It's just what we are going to have to do," he said. "Port Deposit is no stranger to disasters."
He also said he wasn't concerned about any lingering safety issues. "I think we have it under control."
Aegis Photo Editor Matt Button and Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this story.