Uncertainty and fear quickly circulated through rural Yazoo County last Saturday as a nearby gas leak sent over 40 people to the hospital and hundreds of people fleeing their homes.
A 24-inch pipe transporting carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide used by Denbury for oilfield operations ruptured. The damage may have been caused by the ground caving into a ravine due to the heavy rain. Residents of the Satartia and neighboring areas said the air took on a strange hue following the pipe rupture. And the sound of what resembled roaring trains pounded in the area.
“I went outside on my porch to figure out what was going on,” said I.N. Hart, who lives near Eagle Bend. “It sounded like ten freight trains, and the air was so thick.”
Terry Gann, chief investigator with the Yazoo County Sheriff’s Department, was taken to the hospital in the midst of evacuating residents and pulling people from their vehicles.
When Gann first heard about the leak, he headed down Highway 3 to establish a triage post near Phoenix.
“I heard there were still people trapped in their vehicles in the area of the leak,” Gann said. “I found a young man and woman walking around their vehicles, almost like zombies. Then I found another woman near Perry Creek. I got those people to other volunteers, gave them some oxygen and sent them to a Vicksburg hospital.”
Gann then headed down Highway 433 but he said the air was too thick. Returning with air packs, he found another car with a person inside, who was quickly taken to the triage post.
Gann said the gas in the air must have started giving vehicles problems because drivers were pulling over on the side of the road. It wasn’t too long afterwards that the people started feeling the effects of the gas leak…including Gann.
“I went back to Satartia to check on some houses when the wind must have shifted or something,” he said. “It became really hard to breathe, and my truck was barely running. I talked to dispatch, and they could tell I was distressed by my voice. I headed down Highway 3, but it seemed as if the truck drove itself. I was out of it by the time I arrived to help.”
Gann was taken to a hospital and treated for carbon dioxide exposure.
“It just got really hard to breathe, like I had run up a flight of stairs,” Gann said. “I felt sick with a headache. The gas pushes the oxygen out of the air pretty much, so it feels like you are suffocating.”
Once his family found an alternate route to his home, Hart said they headed into Yazoo City, where they stayed the night in a hotel room.
“We really dodged a bullet out there,” Hart said. “Three hours later, people would have been asleep when the gas leak happened. The Lord was looking after a lot of people that night.”
Hart said the idea of a warning system or signal was discussed at a community meeting the evening following the gas leak.
“This is not like a flood or tornado,” Hart said. “The trust and peace people had is going to be hard to restore. I don’t know how we are going to replace that. But God was looking out for us and a lot more people.”