Fuel leak evacuates homes

August 3, 2009 (NILES, Ill.) The driver of a tanker apparently tried to make a turn too quickly at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Oakton Street in Niles. The truck toppled over, spilling gasoline.

By late afternoon the tank was drained of its fuel and a tow truck was prepared to take it away, a lot of the fire departments that responded to this accident when it happened at 7 a.m. had been dismissed, and officials hoped to reopen the intersection to traffic.

The tanker was passing through the Niles neighborhood when it toppled as the driver was making a left turn from Oakton onto Harlem. It caused the tanker, carrying 7,700 gallons of fuel, to begin leaking. Fifteen houses were evacuated.

"I thought maybe this is chemicals or gas. I thought it was maybe a gas station exploding. I was very scared," said Maria Reinebach.

They brought in sand to soak up the fuel, then began the delicate process of draining the rest of the fuel from the tanker.

First the airport crash response team sprayed foam on the ground to prevent the fuel from sparking.

"I heard it's a hazardous waste issue there but there's a -- we're upwind from that so it's probably not too big of a concern," said David Mahon.

The tanker's driver was cited for driving too fast for conditions and making an improper left turn.

"It's just a bad intersection. If you're going too fast," said Anita Becker.

"Safety is the No. 1 issue. From what I understand, driving too fast and took the turn too fast. Shouldn't be happening with gas," said Steve Catallo.

The final tally by the Niles Fire Department, which helped oversee the cleanup effort, is that more than 4,000 gallons of gas leaked into the nearby area. Some of that seeped into the nearby North Branch of the Chicago River.

The EPA was on hand at the river and helped set up a block at Howard Street to keep the oil from flowing.

The company that owns the tanker is responsible for the cost of the cleanup.

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