By Megan Boatwright
Eyewitness News Reporter

DALTON, WHITFIELD COUNTY (WRCB) - A hazardous gas leak, shut down several streets in downtown Dalton Tuesday.

Officials gave the all clear at 3:30 p.m., but not before downtown business owners and employees were forced to spend most of the day in a holding pattern. 

The call first came in at 6:00 a.m.

As soon as emergency crews realized what they were dealing with, they set up a perimeter in downtown Dalton. Every business and street within a half mile radius of Reddy Ice was shut down. 

"We should be making money right now," says evacuated employee, Daniel Waweru.

Instead business owners and employees were stuck outside Tuesday morning.

"During some maintenance work a valve got stuck open and started to ventilate gas," says Bruce Frazier with the Dalton Police Department. 

The gas in question is called anhydrous ammonia.  At high concentration levels it can cause severe skin and breathing irritation, which is why officials felt shutting down the downtown business district was necessary.

"Totally empty, not a soul has been in here all day," Marie Mathis is the owner of Edible Arrangements inside the Peacock Alley Mall.

"Some confusion as to what to do," Mathis says describing how she felt upon learning of the gas leak.  "You ask yourself, ‘should we start work, or just go home?'"

Police told Mathis and her employees they were in a safe zone inside the mall, but if the wind changed direction and ammonia levels increased, they might be evacuated.

"We started to close the store completely. We didn't want to start cutting all the fruit and then be evacuated," she says. 

In the end Mathis decide to stay, but the quiet mall still equals business loss.

"We lost all the walk-in business we would have had today," she says. "Other than that, we have been able to do our orders." 

After having to bring in extra fans and crews the hazmat team was finally able to get gas levels low enough to reopen the roads.  Even though business owners say it was inconvenient, they're glad police made sure they were safe.



UPDATE 4:30 p.m.

DALTON, WHITFIELD COUNTY (WRCB) -  Rescue crews have given the all-clear at the Reddy Ice plant in Dalton after an ammonia leak forced evacuation earlier in the day.

Officials from the Dalton Police Department say haz-mat crews have turned the scene back over to the company around 3:30 p.m.

Authorities evacuated a major portion of downtown Dalton after an anhydrous ammonia leak at the ice plant shortly before 6:00 a.m. Tuesday.


UPDATE 12:14 p.m.

DALTON, GA (WRCB) – Fire officials have reduced the evacuation area in Dalton to a single block.

As ammonia levels in the air continue to drop, crews are concentrating on the area immediately around the Reddy Ice plant.

According to Dalton Police spokesman, Bruce Frazier, the new perimeter is Hamilton Avenue to Pentz Street and Morris Street to Emery Street.

Frazier says rescue crews are still getting elevated ammonia levels inside the plant, but have brought in fans to help ventilate the building.

UPDATE 10:30 a.m.

DALTON (WRCB) - Officials in Dalton say it's still not safe to enter a portion of downtown Dalton following an ammonia leak earlier today.

Hazardous Material crews says they are still getting a strong readings of anhydrous ammonia inside the Reddy Ice plant on South Hamilton Street.

Rescue crews were called to the plant shortly before 6:00 a.m. today after the leak was reported.

Bruce Frazier with the Dalton Police Department says they still aren't certain when they'll be able to open the streets to the public.

The biggest concern for rescue crews right now is the concentration of the ammonia inside the building.

Frazier says another haz-mat crew is being sent into the building to take additional readings.  He says they are being extra cautious due to the dangerous nature of the gas inside the building.



UPDATE 10:00 a.m.

DALTON (WRCB) - It may still take another half hour before anyone is allowed into downtown Dalton without a haz-mat suit.

The downtown area of Dalton was blocked off following an early morning anhydrous ammonia leak at the Reddy Ice plant on South Hamilton Street.

The blocked off area stretches from Thorton Street to the railroad tracks and from Cuyler Street to Walnut Avenue.

A hazardous materials crew from the Dalton Fire Department stopped the leak around 9:15 a.m.

Fire crews are now monitoring the air quality, waiting for the dangerous gas to dissipate.


Update 9:30 a.m.

According to Dalton Police spokesperson Bruce Frazier, the area surrounding the Reddy Ice building may remain shut down for another hour following the ammonia leak.

Due to the gas leak, all downtown roads between Cuyler Street and Walnut Avenue were closed. The area extends from Thornton Street to the railroad tracks.

The public is not being allowed into the area.


Update 9:15 a.m.

Dalton Fire officials say a hazardous materials team shut down the leaking valve at the Reddy Ice building.

Crews are waiting for the building to ventilate.  A second crew is being sent in to monitor the air quality.

The downtown area is still blocked off.

Update 9:11 a.m.

According to a spokesman for the Dalton Police Department, the leak began just before 6:00 a.m.

The few workers who were in the downtown area at the time were evacuated.

No one is being allowed into the affected area.


Update 8:23 a.m.

Channel 3 has learned the gas leak at Reddy Ice is an anhydrous ammonia leak. According to the Dalton Fire Department, it was caused by a problem that occurred during maintenance. At this point, firefighters in hazardous materials suits have taken air samples outside of the building and have found low concentrations of the gas. Soon they will be making the decision to enter the building in teams of three to try to stop the leak.

People are asked to avoid the downtown area if possible, and not to drive past barricades. 

Anhydrous ammonia is a widely used nitrogen-based fertilizer. It can cause severe chemical burns and rapid dehydration if contact is made.

8:12 a.m.

DALTON (WRCB) - A gas leak at the Reddy Ice in downtown Dalton shut down a major section of the city during rush hour on Tuesday.

Dalton police and fire department are on scene and traffic is being diverted around the downtown area.

Due to the gas leak, all downtown roads between Cuyler Street and Walnut Avenue are closed. The area extends from Thornton Street to the railroad tracks.

The public is asked to avoid the area.