Thursday, July 07, 2005

Last Thursday, I had a brush with what I thought would be my last day on this earth. My day job, that I took eleven years ago to pay the bills until I found something I really wanted to do, had a nasty turn. I was detained most of the day by the HawriverPolice & Fire Dept, Alamance County Sheriffs Dept as well as Homeland Security and the FBI. Finally, the Graham Fire Department also was brought in to the fold.

How it all began was this. I work for a trucking and warehousing firm based in Burlington NC and we have another warehouse that is in Hawriver NC. We store products for the Mill industry mostly, and get in shipping Containers from different Countries from time to time. These are large metal Boxes hauled by Semi trucks in case you don't know what I am talking about. Not to be confused with the normal everyday Rigs hauling trailers across our country.

The first Container arrived at eight a.m and the driver and I broke the seal to open it up. Being that I mostly work this warehouse by myself, I began to unload some boxes off of the back of it. Pulling a box down, a bunch of powder fell off of the top of the box covering me. This powder made a dust cloud that was lingering around me and it had a funny taste to it and smell. I thought, "Jeez. What is that?." As I continued to unload cases while the driver was in his cab doing his paperwork, I came across a strange silver tube. I stopped and took a look at it to see what it was. This tube had several red skull and cross bones on it to tell you its poison. Being that this load was from Taiwan, most of the language was unreadable to me. But the Skulls made it plain that it was something deadly. Under one skull written in English it said "Poison" and under another was written "Gift." This gave me an alarming feeling because in all my years working with these things I've never seen one of these.

Being that I was already covered in it, I picked it up and showed it to the driver and asked him if HE had ever seen one before. His reply was no and he looked it up in his Hazard Material book to see what it was. It turned out to be a vile for a nerve gas that is deadly if inhaled as well as absorbed through the skin. At the moment the name of the chemical escapes me but it was a phosphorous gas compound.
There is know phone at this warehouse, other than a cell phone that the company finally purchased for my use. You can only use it outside because of the building and its being in a hole on the outskirts of town.

I called my boss to let him know what I had found and had to wait fifteen minutes or so before his arrival. In the mean time, I found another vial in the container as well and powder all over the place. The boss arrived and made some calls about what I had found. The driver was also making calls to his dispatcher on his cell and the Hazmat Hot line. The authorities were called and the first on the scene was from the Hawriver Fire Dept. Their hazmat man knew squat and after getting some info, told me to get out of my clothes and get a shower as fast as I could. This stuff was extremely deadly. I told him that I had no place to do that there other than a sink .My wife was already on the way with a change of clothes for me to and then I could drive my truck without contaminating it too. He said that I needed to do what he said right now and get to a shower, don't wait. My wife arrived, I changed and double bagged my uniform and boots. Then I rushed home to do as he said. My wife had already made it home while I had been at work changing. She met me coming through the garage and hosed me down with cold water from the garden hose.
As she was doing this, the home phone rang and it was the boss saying that I was to get back to the warehouse as fast as I could. The Hazard Material team had to put us through a de-contamination shower on site. Soaking wet and with another change of clothes, I rushed back worried.

Upon arrival, I saw vehicles from all the local agencies and was informed that Homeland Security was on the way as well as the FBI. They instructed us to stay in one spot in the lot in partial shade area. The spot they picked for us was a pile of gravel and asphalt. My boss and the driver were already in that spot when I arrived. My boss went to his vehicle to retrieve his cell phone and called his wife. Then he walked over to one of the men acting in charge to ask him a question and was yelled at to get back over to the pile and sit down. Roughly two minutes later, a Sheriffs Deputy was sent over to keep us under armed guard. He said he was sent over because we were wandering and pacing around to much.
Well, we were quite worried as you might imagine and no one was telling us anything. Basically at one point we were told to just shut up and be quiet. The Deputy kept watching us with his hand on the butt of his Pistol.
We were being treated as criminals when in fact, especially in regards to myself, we were the victims in this whole ordeal.

We watched as all the Departments set up command posts and brought in food and drink for all of them not thirty feet away from us. The driver asked the Deputy if they were going to feed us and give us something to drink as well. The deputy told him he was worse than a little kid with so many questions and to just sit down. It was 90+ degrees outside and a couple of hours had passed. A fireman came over to see if we would like something to drink. It was then that the man in charge told us that until they found out what this substance was; we could not have anything to eat or drink. We had to sit there and watch as all these people milled around eating and drinking their lunch within our sight. Nobody even offered us anything in the way of comfort.

Now remember, I was told to rush back so we could be put through a decontaminating shower. I was covered in this powder at around eight thirty a.m that I was told was extremely deadly. It is absorbed through the skin as well as by inhalation. And here we sit, sweating in 90+ degree temperature and its after twelve o'clock. Three and a half hours later.

(Continued tomorrow)

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