Contractor begins cleanup at site of fuel tanker wreck

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By Chris Sardelli

Impact from Tuesday’s tanker truck accident will continue to be felt for weeks to come, according to a Lancaster County official.

Morris Russell, director for Lancaster County Emergency Management, said there’s some environmental impact at the location where a tanker truck crashed and exploded on S.C. 903.

A cleanup contractor was assigned to the area Wednesday and started removing the tanker’s fuel from the site.

“They vacuumed as much of the excess fuel back up as possible, and now they’re back out there padding the area to get any remaining fuel on the surface,” Russell said.

Padding refers to the use of pads to mop up spilled fuel.

Russell said the soil at the site will need to be removed and transported to a hazardous material landfill. Then the soil can be replaced.

He expects digging will proceed after the holidays.

The accident occurred around 1:40 p.m. Tuesday in the Antioch community, about 4.5 miles east of Lancaster.

Philip Howle, 59, of Darlington, was driving east in a 2006 Freightliner truck that ran off the right side of the road and crashed into an embankment.

Both the cab and the tanker, which was carrying 7,000 gallons of gas, became engulfed in flames, with smoke from the fire visible from miles away.

Howle, who was driving for S.R. Transport, has been charged with driving too fast for conditions - inattention. No other vehicle was involved in the wreck, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol.

“When a vehicle burns as bad as that truck did, we have to remove it piece by piece,” Russell said.

S.C. 903 was closed until 10:30 p.m. Tuesday while crews removed the wreckage.

Russell said the turnaround time, nine hours, was good for an accident of that magnitude, especially since cleanups of similar accidents have been known to last more than 24 hours.

There were also power outages in the Antioch area as a result of the tanker melting transmission lines in half.

Lines were restrung and power was restored within 45 minutes, according to Russell.

As for Howle, Russell said the trucker is lucky to have survived without any serious injuries. Howle went home with a family member Tuesday night.

“He saved his own life by kicking the windshield out, because he couldn’t get out any other way,” Russell said. “If he hadn’t done that, we would have had a fatality. The fire was too hot for us to get to him.”

Russell said the truck was so badly burned, it would be difficult to determine the cause of the fire. He believes it most likely began as a result of an electrical situation or from sparks when the tanker crashed.

Contact reporter  Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416