Chemical Spill Brings Out Best In People
NEW MARTINSVILLE — Saturday’s chlorine leak at Axiall plant affected hundreds of area residents hailing from Monroe, Marshall, and Wetzel counties. Wetzel County’s affected residents from Proctor to the north end of New Martinsville shared their experiences.
Proctor resident Patricia Yost evacuated her home early this morning with her four dogs and other residents of her home.
Yost said her family heard fire trucks; shortly thereafter, a gentleman came running into her yard. The Yosts were then told that they need to leave right away.
“I saw a white cloud above my house and smelled a chlorine smell,” Yost said, reporting that she didn’t have a chance to retrieve medicines or any other important belongings. Thankfully, New Martinsville’ s Rite Aid pharmacy gave her enough medication for the day.
Paul and Donna Jo Cain of Proctor live very close to the Axiall plant. When they were alerted around 9:30 a.m. Saturday about the chemical spill, authorities told them to place breathing masks on their faces. The couple has lived in their home for more than 60 years.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to us before,” Donna Jo Cain said. “When we were told to leave, we said that we wouldn’t leave without our dog. They let us carry our dog.”
The couple and their dog would meet their son at a restaurant many miles from the chemical spill.
The Cains said their trees, garden and yard have been damaged because of the chemical leak.
“We don’t blame anyone it was an accident,” Paul Cain said. “We’re just glad no one was hurt.”
New Martinsville residents J. Adam Herrick and his wife, Hannah, a surgical technologist at Wetzel County Hospital, were in limbo until authorities determined whether it was safe to return home. “Hannah and I evacuated to the hospital (because) she’s on call, as a precaution,” said J. Adam Herrick. “I just think it’s ironic that my pool day has been put on hold because of chlorine.”
Resident Nikki Goddard owns Paw Spa, located in New Martinsville. However, Goddard was south of the mandatory evacuation area.
“We stayed calm and had the plan to take all my boarding and my personal dogs to my sister Heather Skinner’s house in Paden City. Thank God it was all good here or you would’ve seen a car full of dogs headed south.”
It didn’t come to that, as Goddard noted that she was open and ready for business.
New Martinsville resident Steve Pallisco, councilman for the city’s Fourth Ward, offered his assessment of the situation.
“After the evacuation we are experiencing now is over with, and it is safe for people to return to their homes and job sites, we need to bring officials from both sides of the river together for a meeting to discuss how we can best assist each other during emergency evacuation procedures that affect both Wetzel and Monroe counties,” he said.
Kathi Schmalz is principal of Magnolia High School and her focus is usually on the youth of New Martinsville. However, Schmalz had residents of all ages under her watch as the high school served as a shelter for those who had been evacuated.
“The chief of police (Tim Cecil), Councilman Steve Pallisco, Wetzel County Emergency Management Services, teachers, students and area business have come together to feed, house and comfort those in need,” Schmalz noted.
And those in need were indeed grateful for the evacuation center, as well as the local individuals and businesses who have stepped in to help.
One of those businesses is Sistersville General Hospital, to whom area resident Theresa Bensen is immensely grateful for providing her with much-needed insulin, as well as food to eat. Barbara Powell, Debbie Bennett, Frances Headley and Mountain Maids and Men, and PJ’s Pizza also provided food and assistance to those sheltered at Magnolia High School.
Schmalz noted that other local businesses who have helped include McDonalds, Wendy’s, Dominoes, and Quinet’s Court Restaurant.
New Martinsville Police Department’s Jason Utt, prevention resource officer for Magnolia High School, said he was informed about the leak and necessary evacuations by fellow law enforcement at around 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Utt said he then notified Schmalz, who then made contact with Wetzel County Schools’ Superintendent Ed Toman.
The school was then prepared for local residents at around 10 a.m.
Schmalz then reportedly contacted the above-mentioned businesses who didnt think twice about bringing food to feed fellow community members.
Utt said during evacuations, Emergency Management Services brought those under evacuation, who are shut-in and disabled, to MHS while law enforcement brought everyone else.
Utt praised Schmalz and others who helped organize the evacuation shelter. He said he wanted to let people know how great the high school was in getting people set up and getting people to come in and help.”
“Small communities are just great,” Utt said. “People help, donate and come forward. In a big town, you don’t get the people to help like they do in the small community.”
Toman also praised Schmalz for her quick action.
“Kathi Schmalz was a big support for us at Magnolia. She has been at the high school for the duration. I think she had support staff and maybe some others I’m not aware of It’s just a lot of people going above and beyond,” he said.
Toman said he offered his prayers that everyone, everywhere, was OK.