Port Deposit tanker removed, residents allowed to return home

Port Deposit residents who had been evacuated were allowed to return late Wednesday afternoon and the propane tanker that had crashed into the Tome's Landing condominium complex was finally removed.

Mayor Wayne Tome said the tanker was taken away by another tanker at about 4 p.m. and residents were allowed to return about half an hour later.

The final bit of propane was burned off at the town's fire station, he said.

Those who live in Building 500 at Tome's Landing, the building directly hit by the tanker, were told to contact Town Hall before returning, but Tome said the property did not appear to have structural damage and he believed most residents had already come back as of 9 p.m.

The town of about 650 people had asked more than 100 downtown residents to evacuate Tuesday after the 9,000-gallon propane tanker crashed into Tome's Landing at about 1 p.m. that day.

Earlier in the day, town government administrative assistant Kathy Grey said residents along Main Street between 43 S. Main and Vannort Drive, as well as along Rowland Drive and High Street, had been told to evacuate to Bainbridge Elementary School.

Grey did not know exactly how many residents that included, but said she printed 400 evacuation notices and expected perhaps 200 people to respond to the evacuation.

She also said she expected most residents would find other places to stay instead of reporting to the elementary school.

Wednesday morning, the immediate area around the site had remained closed off since the accident at 1 p.m. Tuesday, when Cowboy Dale Brown, of Maplewood, Ohio, lost control of the tanker on Center Street, also called Route 276, and skidded into the condo building.

Off-loading the tanker had been expected to take about 12 hours.

Emergency personnel on the scene said at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday 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.

Brown, 56, who had been trapped by the overturned truck, was taken to Christiana Medical Center outside Wilmington, Del. Rescue personnel spent two hours, in three rotations, to extricate him. They had to wear cumbersome breathing apparatus as a precaution against any lingering propane in gas form, rescue personnel on the scene said.

The truck's brakes are believed to have failed and the driver passed through the intersection of Routes 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.

All roads into downtown Port Deposit were originally blocked off 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.

Robo-calls were initially made to town residents, and those living in the affected Tome's Landing condominium complex were 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.

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.

The truck is owned by Farmers Propane of Medina, Ohio.

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 at the time.

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.

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