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Overturned gasoline tanker in Bethlehem forces residents to evacuate

Residents can return home after flipped tanker truck forces evacuation
Residents can return home after flipped tanker truck forces evacuation 02:23

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (CBS) -- Some residents were able to return home Thursday night, hours after they were evacuated from their homes when a gasoline tanker crashed, flipped over and began leaking fuel into their neighborhood in the early morning hours.

The fuel spill happened in the area of West Union Boulevard and Paul Avenue at around 2:30 a.m. and forced evacuations from at least 400 homes.

Though some residents could return home, many roads remained blocked off around the spill site in Bethlehem. The truck was removed from the scene Thursday evening. 

When the spill occurred, first responders rushed to the scene and used megaphones to alert people to get out of their homes. 

"I heard them on their loud speakers and I ignored it," Fran Groves said. "And I heard them say, 'Evacuate immediately,' and I thought that was ridiculous, I'm not going to evacuate in this quiet neighborhood. And then they were serious. I heard it about three or four times and I think 'maybe I'll put my clothes on.' Maybe I'm going somewhere."

The driver of the tanker was taken to the hospital with injuries. 

There were two separate leaks coming from the 6,000-gallon tanker, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said. Crews from the Bethlehem Fire Department HazMat Team and Lehigh County HazMat arrived at the scene working to contain the spill. Bob Novatnack, director of Bethlehem's Emergency Management, says the cleanup could last days. 

The owner of the tanker has contracted a hazardous waste company to clean up the scene and runoff, a Bethlehem spokesperson said. As a precaution, a containment boom was deployed on Monocacy Creek in the area of Conestoga Street, but officials don't believe any gas from the leak entered the water. 

The Red Cross said they're providing canteen services to responders, mobilizing teams to support the evacuation site, and coordinating with local officials to determine the next steps. 

Nitschmann Middle School in Bethlehem will operate on a two-hour delay, the school announced. The school was used as a shelter for displaced families.

"A situation like this is different than a lot of the things we respond to because the homes aren't damaged," said Peter Brown with the Red Cross. "So everything will be the same in their homes when they go back."

The driver was hospitalized in an unknown condition.

Residents can contact the City of Bethlehem Public Safety Center at 610-865-7000 to verify when it is safe to return to their homes. 

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