Many pets found safe after spill
By Krista Zilizi| South Carolina Bureau
Monday, January 10, 2005

BURNETTOWN - When Theresa Hutto evacuated her Graniteville home Thursday evening with her husband and two children, she was forced to leave two family members behind.

Spanky, the family's 8-year-old Pomeranian, and Zena, a 6-year-old Pekingese, could not come with them when they evacuated to a house in North Augusta after a train wreck spewed a deadly chlorine vapor into the community Thursday.

On Sunday evening, Mrs. Hutto was one of dozens of displaced Graniteville residents who reported to Midland Valley High School to reunite with pets they abandoned days ago.

"I'll have some excited kids," said Mrs. Hutto, who lives on Ergle Street Extension. "My 6-year-old keeps asking me if the dogs are dead."

The high school served as a temporary animal recovery site for pet owners and a command center for Aiken County Animal Control workers who spent Saturday night and most of Sunday retrieving domestic animals from the houses and back yards of evacuated residents.

Animal control received 150 requests to retrieve family pets. They had rescued more than 100 as of Sunday evening.

Most of the animals received a clean bill of health.

"It's really a great, pleasant surprise," said Charlie Timmerman, a veterinarian with Aiken Veterinary Clinic who examined the animals for burns in the mouth, nose and eyes and respiratory conditions.

He said most won't suffer any long-term medical conditions as a result of the chemical leak.

"(Chlorine poisoning) is not something that accumulates over time (in animals)," he said. "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen quick, just like in people."

Displaced residents said they wished they had known the evacuation would last for an extended period of time.

"The cop talked to us like (the evacuation) was just going to be an overnight thing," Mrs. Hutto said. "We left the dogs a little food and water and put them in the basement. If we had known we'd be gone longer, we would have done more for the dogs."

Marilynn Martini still can't do anything for her dog that remains trapped inside her home on Julianne Lane.

The Graniteville resident showed up at Midland Valley High School on Sunday with hopes of reuniting with Precious, a 55-pound pit bull and Brittany spaniel mix that she left inside her bathroom Thursday before she evacuated her house that sits in a 300-yard "hot zone."

But officials still won't enter the area because of potentially harmful levels of chlorine.

Ms. Martini isn't sure when she'll see Precious again.

"She's my baby," she said. "I could just cry."

FAMILY PETS

Residents can call Aiken County Animal Control to schedule an animal control officer to retrieve their domestic animal at 617-8326, 617-8306 or 617-8305. Officials will not retrieve domestic animals in households in the 300-yard "hot zone" because of potentially harmful levels of chlorine.

Reach Krista Zilizi at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106 or krista.zilizi@augustachronicle.com.

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