US town evacuates; police relocate explosives



New Orleans: Police moved millions of pounds of explosives on Monday that had been haphazardly stashed in warehouses in Louisiana, prompting hundreds to evacuate from harm's way in case any of it exploded.

The transfer of 2.7 million kilograms of artillery propellant began again at daybreak at Camp Minden, which is in north Louisiana's Webster Parish. It started Saturday. A state police spokesman said the work is suspended at night.

About half the 800 residents in nearby Doyline, about 65 kilometres south of the Arkansas line, heeded state police warnings to evacuate until the stash could be divided into smaller quantities.

Authorities were dividing the explosives into amounts that would be too small to pose a serious threat to the town if it were to ignite; there was enough ammunition to pack dozens of tractor-trailers.

The material was stored on property leased by Explo Systems Inc, which became the subject of a criminal investigation following an explosion in October.

Boxes and small barrels of the M6 artillery propellant were found both outdoors and crammed into unauthorized buildings leased by Explo at Camp Minden, a former Army ammunitions plant, state police superintendent Col Mike Edmonson said Sunday.

The company's "careless and reckless disregard made it unsafe for their own employees, for schoolchildren in Doyline, for the town of Doyline," Edmonson said.

The company is located on a portion of the former ammunition plant's 15,000 acres that is leased for commercial use. Other sections are used for Louisiana National Guard training.

Capt Doug Cain, a state police spokesman, identified the product as M6 propellant, used in howitzers and other artillery. The pellets are largely compressed nitrocellulose, also known as guncotton.

Authorities had initially estimated the total at 1 million pounds after an investigator looking into an Oct. 15 explosion at Explo Systems saw cardboard boxes on long rows of pallets behind a building.

They found more stacked in sheds and warehouses when crews returned Saturday to begin moving the boxes into bunkers about three kilomters away on the former munitions site, which covers nearly 61 sq kilometers just north of Doyline.

"It wasn't in their storage magazines. They had it hidden on the property, away from the storage magazines where we would expect to find it," Cain said.

PTI