Route 50 Disaster Drill

The situation: a tanker truck hijacked by a member of a so-called "sleeper terrorist" group, collides on U.S. route 50 with another tanker, hauling gasoline. Injuries, many of them involving smoke inhalation, are numerous. In spite of the spontaneity of the situation, it's a scenario that had been worked out for some time.

We've been working on this for two years," says Washington County Commissioner John Grimes. "We did a tabletop scenario last year, but it's been an effort. We've been meeting weekly for the last two to three months, to make sure we have every little detail down."

There have been a lot of these mock disasters over the years, but the scenarios have changed greatly. Just a few years ago, this might have mainly been a chemical accident and now terrorism is an element.

"Several years ago, we would have been training on house fires," says Belpre Fire Chief Wesley Walker. "More recently, it's been HAZMAT incidents. Right now, we have to consider a lot of terrorist activity and homeland security."

Situations like this real and planned can attract a lot of onlookers, but while U.S. Route 50 was held to two lanes during this operation this morning, officials say there were few onlookers.

They add traffic problems were also at a minimum.

"The state department (of transportation) closed down the highway for us to use these lanes," Walker says," and kept the southbound lanes open. It seemed like they kept moving real good."

And the fact that it was the President's Day holiday also meant less traffic on 50 than usual. While this wasn't real, there is a significance to its location. Ten years ago this spring, the Belpre area was the site of a real disaster: the fatal explosion at the former shell chemical plant.


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