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Gas well blowout drives families from Wayne County homes

By By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
Feb. 15, 2001
WAYNESBORO "I thought a jet plane had crashed. It scared the fire out of me."
That was the reaction Wednesday of Wayne County resident Charlie McRae after a gas well blowout and subsequent fire drove him, his wife Elaine, and about 100 other families from their homes Tuesday evening.
The well, which was being drilled just north of Clara near the Maynor Creek Waterpark, blew out at 8:52 p.m. It was then set on fire to prevent poison gases from escaping into the atmosphere.
Witnesses said when the fire was set, the flames leaped 65 feet into the air. It was reported that the drilling rig melted in 12 minutes.
McRae said when he went out to investigate, he saw a deputy sheriff, who ordered him to leave the area immediately. McRae got his wife and quickly complied.
Sheriff Stein Farrior said residents living within a 2 1-2 mile radius of the gas well have been evacuated and will likely be away from their homes for 10 to 14 days.
Those affected by the blowout are being housed in motels. All of the rooms had been taken in Waynesboro on Wednesday night, and some were being sent to Laurel. Bean Resources of Lafayette, La., the operator of the well, has made provisions for all affected families.
The area is being monitored for poison gas. As of Wednesday night, none had been detected. Boots and Coots of Houston, Texas, has been called in to cap the well.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, along with the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard are also assisting in the monitoring and/or the evacuation.
Some residents are being allowed to return home briefly to pick up needed items. However, they must have an escort who has a gas monitor.
One resident, Shon Trigg, questioned why residents weren't warned any earlier.
Trigg's wife, Tara, complained of a bad odor earlier in the day which she said made her ill.
Joe and Ann Beasley, who live within a mile of the rig, also complained about a bad odor.
There were reports from some residents that fish were dying in the Maynor Creek Lake.
The last well explosion and fire to happen in Wayne County occurred in 1998, according to Sheriff Farrior.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at