April 1, 2011  //  


Media Contacts:
FEMA – Josie Pritchard        (276) 973-0078
VDEM – Suzanne Simmons   (276) 973-0063

April 18, 2002




WISE, VA. – Hazardous materials teams have located and disposed of more than 7,900 containers torn from foundations and storage sheds during the March floods in Southwest Virginia. More than 5,000 of them were removed from a Nature Conservancy site on the Clinch River.

In a one-week period, two National Guard/Hazmat helicopter flyovers revealed 38 sites containing hazardous materials that had been missed during land and waterway searches. Two large fuel tanks, one 2,000 gallons and the other 3,000-gallons, were successfully recovered from the Clinch River near St. Paul, Va.

Drums, cylinders and spray cans containing everything from propane, gasoline, and fuel oil to
paint, pesticides and other household residues have been collected and properly discarded. At least 10 tons of steel drums, buckets, tanks, and cylinders and some 2,400 gallons of fuel have been recycled. A total of 39 vehicle batteries were recycled.

Disposal efforts are continuing with Hazmat teams from Giles and Wise counties and the city of Norton projected to complete the cleanup by the end of April.

The Pendleton Island Preserve, a chain of three sandy, wood-covered islands totaling 35 acres, hosts 45 species of freshwater mussels, eight of them listed as endangered. The preserve supports the highest concentration of Cumberlandian mollusk species known to exist anywhere in the world.

The kind of debris that accumulated in the March flood contained materials hazardous to wildlife, especially the mollusks. “If you have 100 ’empty’ one-quart motor oil containers, you’re going to get a lot of residue that can harm wildlife,” says Jack Tolbert, regional hazardous materials officer for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Complicating the job for the Giles County team retrieving the containers was getting them from the Pendleton Preserve to a collection point across the Clinch River. Rigging a rope ferry using an aluminum johnboat solved the problem.

Until a few years ago, Hazmat officers generally ignored empty containers, water heaters and pressure tanks. “But we ended up chasing them down the river after the next flood,” Tolbert says. Now the teams pick them up to get them out of circulation permanently.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Photos for this story are available on the VDEM Web site at www.vaemergency.com/library/archive/images/swvaflood02/hazmat02.htm.


NOTE TO EDITORS: Information on the Southwest Virginia disaster is also available on FEMA’s homepage on the Internet at www.fema.gov, or VDEM’s homepage at www.vaemergency.com. Information also is available through FEMA’s 24-fax-on-demand service by calling (202) 646-FEMA. RADIO NEWS DIRECTORS: For recorded actualities on response and recovery operations call the FEMA Radio Network at 1-800-323-5248.


Be ready. Be willing to help.

Virginia Disaster Relief Fund