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Tragedy averted as fuel tanker flips

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Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 12:03 pm | Updated: 11:37 am, Wed Jul 18, 2012.

WOBURN - A host of state and local emergency responders turned out in East Woburn around 10 p.m. Monday as Route 95 was shut down in both directions between the Route 93 intersection and the Main Street exit as two-vehicle accident resulted in a gas truck landing on its back, spewing its contents over the highway in an area near the Mishawum Road on and off ramps.

Crews worked to keep the tanker from catching fire while also trying to contain the estimated 8,000 gallons of fuel that was leaking from the overturned vehicle.

“It was a wild night,” said Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin fresh from a debriefing session with key city officials including police, fire, DPW, and the engineer’s office. “It could have been a major disaster. All it could have taken was a spark.”

While Joe’s American Grille was close to closing for the night, some 70 guests from the abutting Hampton Inn had to be evacuated.

Galvin said a good number of the guests were with a senior group visiting the Boston area with those displaced being brought to a shelter area at Woburn Memorial High School.

The Woburn Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) assisted guests as they arrived at the high school, Galvin said, noting the guests were returned to the hotel sometime around 5 a.m.

Residents in the nearby Garden Terrace neighborhood, who according to one neighbor could smell gas, were not evacuated from their homes.

Through the night, the battle continued on two fronts, one securing the gas tanker and two, containing the leaking fuel oil.

A host of specialty apparatus were brought in including units from Hanscom, Logan, Everett and Cambridge, to make sure the tanker did not ignite.

Galvin said the city was very lucky when the truck did not catch fire as it was flipping over and leaking fuel at the same time.

The condition of the driver of the truck, who was brought to Massachusetts General Hospital, was not listed as of this morning as State Police were still waiting to issue a final release on the accident.

A second vehicle was also involved.

The second front, Galvin said, was the leaking fuel which was flowing from the tanker toward Normac Road.

The spill, Galvin said, was contained largely to that area.

The good news, he noted, was that this area is nowhere near the Woburn’s water supply.

Woburn Department of Public Works crews, under the direction of Chris Doherty, and City Engineer Jay Corey, were on scene as well as state Department of Environmental Protection personnel, and specialty units.

While Woburn and State Police assisted at the scene, fire crews from some 14 departments were on scene, largely staged in the Woburn Mall parking lot, including most local communities, like Burlington, Winchester, Reading, Stoneham and Wilmington.

Galvin also noted the special units on scene for such HazMat incidents including crews from Logan, Hanscom, Cambridge and Everett.

Woburn Police units were under the direction of Capt. Robert Rufo and Lt. David Murray, while the local fire effort was led by Chief Paul Tortolano and Capt. Robert Farrell.

“The coordination between city, state and other public safety officials was phenomenal,” said State Rep. James Dwyer, D-Woburn. “It looks like no one was seriously hurt, and I’m just thankful to our first responders and our public safety crews for that.”

It was believed the tanker was righted sometime around 4 a.m., with traffic back to what could considered to be normal by about 7 a.m. Delays remained throughout the morning commute, however. While Route 128 south was reportedly backed up to around Salem Street in Lynnfield, many commuters heard the news about the tanker and opted to drive on back roads, creating delays.

A police presence was placed around the city to assist with any delays the accident might have had on local roadways, which often back up when there is a major accident on the highway.

“It could have been a major disaster,” Galvin said.

“It was a great effort,” Galvin said of the emergency response from both local units and assisting local and state agencies.

“It is a bad spot,” he noted, as this accident happened in the same area when another gas tanker flipped on its side several years ago, closing the highway from the late evening time of the accident through the morning commute.

Galvin also noted the accident is an area where such trucks have to exit 93 and go around Boston along Route 95 due to safety concerns in Boston.

He added that officials have been talking for some 15 years about fixing the Route 93/95 interchange, but nothing has been done to date.

According to a press release from the Mass State Police early this morning, the highway remained completely closed until about 2:30 this morning when some lanes began opening back up.

Preliminary reports suggest the crash involved a passenger car and the tanker truck. The operator of the tanker truck was transported to Mass General Hospital with unknown injuries.

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