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Chlorine threat lingers in S.C.

Michael Reed was working the graveyard shift at Avondale Mills here when a co-worker, John Laird, strode over to say that "he thought he heard a train crash," Reed recalled from the hospital Friday.

When another worker said that he had seen "green stuff," and a third, Charles Shealy, echoed the warning, the group of mill workers, about 15 in all, ran to the parking lot.

"We tried to unlock the gate to get to our vehicles," Reed said. "But by then the green stuff had come around the gate and got stronger, so we all put our heads to the ground."

It was the wrong strategy. The "green stuff" was chlorine gas leaking from a tank car in the train wreck; heavier than air, it settles along the ground. But one of the men got his vehicle, and Reed, 23, and a group of others climbed in and drove away. Laird and Shealey did not wait. They ran into the woods, Reed said. That is where their bodies were found.

Laird and Shealey were among eight people who died when the train carrying the deadly chlorine gas slammed into another train halted on a rail siding by the plant here early Thursday morning. The disaster has turned Graniteville into a ghost town, its inhabitants replaced by investigators in hazardous materials suits.

Besides Laird and Shealey, the dead plant employees included Fred Rushton III, 41; Allen Frazier, 58; and Steven Bagby, 38, the Aiken County Coroner's Office said. A truck driver from Quebec, Joseph F. Stone, who was asleep in his cab, also died at the plant. The engineer of the moving train, Christopher Seeling, 28, of West Columbia, was killed, possibly from chlorine inhalation, as was a Graniteville resident, Tony DeLoach, 56, found dead in his home.

One Avondale Mills worker was still missing on Friday afternoon, and scores of the nearly 240 people taken to six area hospitals on Thursday remained in their care, with about a dozen in serious or critical condition, said Lt. Michael Frank of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

Meanwhile, everyone within a 1-mile radius of the wreck, about 5,500 people, remained exiled. There was no indication of when they could return, because in addition to the leaking tank car, still spewing gas on Friday, there were two more filled with chlorine, one of them severely damaged.

CHLORINE GAS

PROPERTIES: Greenish yellow; 2{ times heavier than air.

PHYSICAL EFFECTS: Irritates the nose, throat and lungs; can lead to bronchitis, asthma, heart disease and meningitis.

_ AP

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