BRAITHWAITE, La. -- Residents around the Stolthaven chemical facility are only being allowed back in their homes a couple of hours a day. So far, Stolthaven said they've re-railed 84 of 140 rail cars that flooded off the tracks.
Residents in Braithwaite Park lost everything in Hurricane Isaac and they had to wait for days to get back into their homes to see the damage because of the water, and the potentially hazardous situation at Stolhaven.
Officials with the Stolthaven chemical and transfer facility admit there was a leak after 10 feet of storm surge inundated the facility.
“We had one tank of octene that was compromised and one tank of base oil. Both of these were in our containment systems and fully boomed off once our spill response contractor arrived on scene,” said Steve Turchi, regional director of the North America Stolthaven Terminals.
Octene is a flammable chemical that smells like gasoline.
“Since that time, we've never seen any offsite impacts related to air,” said Rodney Mallett, communications director of the La. Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ.
They were still waiting on water and soil sample tests Tuesday.
Stolthaven was working with La. State Police to try to get 142 rail cars back on the tracks. Eighty of them had potentially dangerous chemicals in them.
DEQ records show the facility flooded during a number of past hurricanes, including Katrina and Gustav.
So, with a 7 to 11 foot storm surge predicted by the National Weather Service for the area, why were the rail cars not moved out of the area?
"It is part of our plan, but there wasn't enough time. The railroad did remove some cars from our facility prior to the storm. But it was just too many of them to move all at once," Turchi said.
Answering that question will be part of DEQ’s investigation after the site is secured and residents go back home.
Even though there are 80 similar facilities in the state, no agency, state or federal, requires them to have a hurricane evacuation plan to prevent something like this from happening again.
Long before the hurricane, Stolthaven was fined $97,000 by DEQ for a leaking tank in 2008 and for not having a proper spill containment plan or system for some of their tanks.