Update: Tennessee Residents Try to Recover after Oil Well Explosion

April 8, 2008

Tennessee resident, Irene Daugherty, is home but still shaken after an oil well explosion just 60 yards from her front door melted the siding on her manufactured home and transformed the landscape into charred stumps and pools of oily water.

The 64-year-old Daugherty says, “It was a miracle we made it.”

The oil rig exploded when drillers hit a pocket of natural gas, then ignited and burned for a week before being snuffed out March 25 by Texas-based oil well firefighters.

One person was injured and residents in 25 homes, including Daugherty’s, were evacuated.

The state fined Petros-based Walden Resources LLC $50,000 for drilling deeper than its permit allowed, and has since rejected a request to let them drill even deeper. Company owner Dan Potts plans to appeal.

Meanwhile, contractors hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are trucking out contaminated oil, water and dirt, including emptying a pond built to prevent oil-befouled water from reaching Indian Creek. The cleanup could take three or four more weeks.

Easing Daugherty’s memory of March 19 will take longer. The day began with a fireball and a blast that rattled the walls before dawn.

Irene Daugherty’s daughter, Marva Daugherty, 37, remembers running into the room where her mother and brother were.

“She opened the door and looked out and said, ‘Oh my God, call 911,”‘ Marva Daugherty told The Knoxville News Sentinel.

Charles Daugherty, who is Irene’s 42-year-old son, recalled, “The whole hill was just a big ball of flame.”

Irene Daugherty said, “I just thought that we were all going to die.”

The adults and the grandchildren – Zachary Hill, 11, and Victoria Daugherty, 14 – fled.

Charles Daugherty got his mother, who lost her right leg to diabetes nearly six years ago, into her wheelchair and down the ramp along the front of the house. Marva Daugherty dragged a terrified Zachary out of the house. They all piled into the family van.

With burning limbs crashing down and the pond ablaze, Charles Daugherty started the engine and put the pedal to the floor.

“We had to back out the driveway into the flames,” he said. “The whole road, everything, was on fire that morning.”

They drove to a neighbor’s house and down a back road to safety.

Now, they are home again. But Charles Daugherty said his mother still has nightmares.

“Every time we hear something, we jump now,” he said.


Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel,

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