WITN  | Greenville, NC  | News, Weather, Sports

State Port Open As Of Thursday Afternoon

As of 2:21 p.m. Thursday, the State Port at Morehead City has reopened after Tuesday's hazmat emergency.

Officials say all of the explosive material PETN has been removed from the port.

An investigation into the hazardous situation is underway, and there's no word on how long that investigation will last.

Nine containers of the explosive material leaked out Tuesday morning at the port, forcing the port and Highway 70 shut down along with a voluntary evacuation of downtown Morehead City. More PETN was found Wednesday, forcing the port to remain shut down into Thursday.



Previous Story:

Morehead City, NC (WITN) - The Coast Guard says it has found more compromised cylinders of PETN at the state port in Morehead City.

Nine containers of the explosive material leaked out Tuesday morning at the port, forcing the port and Highway 70 shut down along with a voluntary evacuation of downtown Morehead City. Authorities say that was caused when a fork lift punctured one of the shipping containers that housed the slury-type explosive.

The evacuation and road closure was lifted Tuesday evening, but the port remains closed as the cleanup continues.

The Coast Guard says the additional containers were not damaged in the initial accident, but were found after authorities checked other containers. The Coast Guard says that PETN may have leached out during shipping and they say it is a small area.

“The Ports Authority’s goal is to reopen the Port of Morehead City as safely and as quickly as possible,” said CEO Thomas Eagar.

The Ports Authority says it is working with customers while the Port is closed. That includes moving cargo from the port to their facilities and allowing ships to dock at the port.

Waterways around the port have reopened to boat traffic.


The state port at Morehead City will remained closed after Tuesday's explosive spill.

Tuesday evening the port said it expected the facility to open at 8:00 a.m.

But the Port Authority says that has been delayed as crews continue to clean up Tuesday's accident.

That remediation work is being done under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard. Wednesday morning the Coast Guard released photographs of that work. To view, click on the PHOTOS tab at the top of this story.

The Coast Guard says there is a 300 yard safety zone around the port for vessels until the situation is safely resolved.

“The Ports Authority’s goal is to reopen the Port of Morehead City as safely and as quickly as possible,” said CEO Thomas Eagar.


Previous Story

Life is beginning to return to normal in Morehead City after a hazmat emergency shut down the state port, closed a major highway and produced a voluntary evacuation of downtown.

Just after 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, police reopened Arendell Street, which is also U.S. 70 through the middle of town. Emergency management says the voluntary evacuation for residents and businesses has now been lifted as well.

State ports spokeswoman Karen Fox tells WITN News that the port was scheduled to reopen Wednesday morning at 8:00 a.m., which is its normal time.

Fire chief Wes Lail says there were nine drums containing the explosive material PETN in one shipping container. Nine 110-pound drums were punctured by a fork lift. Lail said the PETN was in a slurry form, shipped that way for safety reasons.

Lt. Robert Jones with Morehead City police says it's been approximately two years since PETN was brought into the port and that security is heightened anytime the material is brought into the facility.

PETN was the explosive used in the Christmas Day terror plot when a man is accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane. In 2001 authorities say Richard Reid tried to blow up an airliner by hiding the explosive in his shoe.

Authorities say the first call came in at 4:44 a.m., but it wasn't until after 9:00 a.m. when residents were alerted. The fire chief says they first had to access the situation before making that alert.

"We approach a potential hazmat incident different than we would a car wreck or even a structure fire in that we are very a slow approach. We're not near as aggressive because what we don't know can hurt," the fire chief told reporters.

Authorities say the PETN came from a foreign ship that was delivering the material. WITN News has learned the "Lehmann Forester" is a cargo ship out of Antigua and Barbuda. Officials say the ship originated in Spain.


The Morehead City port has been shut down and authorities are say there's a voluntary evacuation of downtown Morehead City.

Morehead City police say nine containers containing highly explosive material were punctured at 4:44 a.m. Tuesday. Officials say the material is PETN.

Experts say PETN is used in detonators, grenades and projectiles and is highly explosive. According to online information, it is usually shipped as a mixture with water.

PETN was the explosive used in the Christmas Day terror plot when a man is accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane.

Morehead City Mayor Jerry Jones says a forklift operator accidentally punctured at least one container filled with PETN, forcing the port to shut down.

To view pictures of the scene please click the PHOTOS tab at the top of the story

Morehead City is one of the deepest ports on the East Coast of the United States, and imports and exports large amounts of sulfur products, phosphate and rubber. In 2009, the port exported more than 2,000 tons of material classified as "military."

Morehead City fire chief Wes Lail says the town is talking a lot of extra precautions and that the evacuation of downtown is voluntary.

Cherry Point Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Morehead City police and fire, and surrounding agencies are on scene.

Traffic on Highway 70 from Radio Island to 5th Street in Morehead City is closed.

North Carolina Emergency Management says the leak is contained to land, nothing has leaked into the water. There have been no injuries reported.

Police are telling residents that if they do not evacuate then they should try to stay away from windows and doors. The town says no foot or vehicle traffic will be permitted in the port area.

The North Carolina State Ports Authority spokeswoman Karen Fox says the accident occurred as workers were removing the material from a vessel at the port. She says that off-loading is handled by a private company and not port employees.

Fox says she does not know where the shipment originated or where it was headed.

The Ports Authority says explosive materials are routinely handled at the port. Fox says they follow all safety and transportation regulations when handling that material. She says the exact circumstances on the accident remain under investigation.

The most explosive situation at the port may have been back in 1961, when a Navy ship, the Potomac, was off-loading aviation gas and fuel for jets, according to former WITN reporter Alan Covey.

The gas and fuel leaked into the water and ignited, causing a fire and explosion killing two and injuring dozens. Reports show the ship burned for days.


12:00 Noon Ports Authority News Release

"Emergency Crews respond to hazardous material incident at Port of Morehead City: No injuries reported. Port closed as precaution. The NC State Ports Authority has been working with Carteret County first responders and emergency management officials on the scene at the Port of Morehead City, in response to a hazardous materials incident early this morning at the Port.

There have been no reported injuries or damage to the environment.

Given the nature of the incident and regulatory requirements, the Port has been evacuated, and Highway 70 from 4th Street to Beaufort has been closed while emergency crews work to secure the area. The accident occurred during a vessel operation at the Port. Vessel operations at the North Carolina Ports are handled by private stevedoring companies.

No NC State Ports Authority employees were involved. Explosive materials are handled routinely at the Port of Morehead City, under all prescribed regulations for safe handling and transportation and in conjunction with local and state emergency management agencies.

Details on the circumstances surrounding the accident and the nature of the material remain under investigation."


Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
WITN

275 E. Arlington Blvd. Greenville, NC 27858 252-439-7777
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 81225002