CANTON â€” A chemical reaction involving sulfur dioxide and a subsequent fire at a shuttered industrial building forced hundreds of city residents from their northeast-side homes Monday evening.
Jeffrey Smyth, a 39-year-old cancer patient who has undergone two rounds of chemotherapy, sat inside the Canton Memorial Civic Center with a growing crowd of evacuees wondering if he would be able to return home Monday night and when.
â€œI forgot my cell phone, my house keys and my medication,â€ said Smyth, whose mother arranged for police to transport him downtown. â€œI donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m going to do.â€
Firefighters evacuated residents living between 22nd Street NE and Fourth Street NE and between Grace and Rowland avenues Monday evening after responding to the former Convoy Containers plant at 1811 20th St. NE for complaints of a foul odor.
By 9:30 p.m. Monday, residents who remained in their homes were being told to stay inside, turn off their air conditioners and furnaces and close their windows.
The city sent out an automated phone message to alert residents about the evacuation. Police officers drove up and down city streets using their public-address systems to urge residents to leave their homes. Stark Area Regional Transit Authority buses lined up outside the civic center to drop off the elderly, the handicapped and others in need of a lift. Most residents, like Kim Dillman, who is wheelchair bound and breathes with the assistance of an oxygen tank, werenâ€™t planning for an overnight stay.
â€œIt was alarming figuring out what was going on, where I was going and how I was going to get there,â€ said Dillman, who sat patiently with her husband Scott and chihuahua Sonny. â€œIâ€™d rather be in my nice, cozy bed, but Iâ€™d also rather be safe than sorry.â€
Firefighters were called the former cardboard- and plastic-container manufacturer shortly after 2 p.m. Monday. When they entered the building, they discovered a chemical reaction that produced intense, white smoke inside a large vat, said Canton Battalion Chief Thomas Garra, who also serves as the Stark County HAZMAT team leader.
The HAZMAT team found conditions created by the single-story factory unsafe for neighbors. As winds carried the stench of sulfur, emergency officials widened the evacuation area to the southern city limits. Decontamination stations were setup for firefighters outside of the old factory and a command station was established at the Stark County Sheriffâ€™s Office to coordinate emergency response efforts.