Panic in suburb as crash spills acid

2011-07-29 00:00

RESIDENTS of Athlone and Chasedene in Pietermaritzburg panicked yesterday evening as the fumes of a toxic industrial chemical that had spilled from an overturned truck on the N3 spread across the area.

The yellow chemical, which authorities said is sulphuric acid, was visible on the surface of the southbound lane near the wreck of the truck.

Two people, the truck driver and a passenger, were freed using the jaws of life.

The accident happened when the truck carrying about 25 000 litres of the acid appeared to lose brakes and ran down to hit five cars, injuring about 11 people.

The bomb squad was on the scene because the accident involved a chemical spillage.

Local resident Ashika Singh handed facemasks to the Witness reporters near the scene as she and her brother Rajesh stood in their yard watching the rescue efforts.

City firefighters and paramedics from ER24 and the provincial ambulance service were seen working hard to free the two occupants of the truck. The truck caught fire after the accident, but firefighters were able to douse it immediately.

A large stretch of the freeway from Peter Brown Drive was shut, leaving many cars and trucks jammed for hours.

This led to two other trucks colliding near the Peter Brown overhead bridge, but no one was injured. Later the northbound lane was also closed near Liberty Midlands Mall.

Singh said the family were in their dining room in Clifton Road, which is a stone’s throw away from the accident scene, at about 5 pm when they heard a big bang .

They reacted quickly to seek help for the man, who was wailing from the truck, “Please help! Please help!”

“It was like a metal drum hitting the floor. This is how it sounded when the truck capsized,” said Singh.

They immediately realised that the truck had overturned at the spot known as Apple Bend, where they have witnessed numerous truck accidents.

“Even before I rushed outside I was sure what had happened, which is why I immediately phoned 10111.

“As the man screamed for help we shouted back assuring him that the help was on its way,” said Singh.

Road Traffic Inspectorate spokesperson Zinhle Mngomezulu said the traffic in both lanes was prevented from reaching the area of the acid spill.

“Local residents were also informed through radio to be on the alert about the smell of the acid, which spread 200 metres on the road.

“Immediately after realising the chemical spillage our officers ran away from the scene,” said Mngomezulu.

Residents of Athlone and Chasedene expressed concern about the acid in Facebook messages.

The operations manager at the Fire Department, Juggie Padayachee, who was on the scene, told The Witness: “The chemical has no immediate danger and the residents shouldn’t worry for now.”

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