Tanker spill closes I-55 in Memphis for nearly 14 hours

The highway remained blocked at mid-morning.
The highway remained blocked at mid-morning.
Image of the tanker from Chopper 5 taken early Wednesday afternoon.
Image of the tanker from Chopper 5 taken early Wednesday afternoon.

By Nick Kenney - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Memphis fire officials evacuated an apartment complex Wednesday, hours after a tanker truck carrying hazardous chemicals crashed and overturned on Interstate 55.

Just before 1:00 a.m. Wednesday, Memphis police and firefighters responded the crash, involving a tanker truck and an SUV, on I-55 northbound at Shelby Drive.  The drivers of both vehicles were taken to the MED in critical condition.

The tanker truck was carrying Vinyl Acetate, a flammable chemical, causing a tricky situation for those tasked with cleaning the mess.  Emergency crews worked for hours to transfer the chemical to another tanker.

The danger the chemical posed forced the closure of I-55 in both directions.  For much of the day, including Wednesday morning's rush hour, the interstate was closed between I-240 in Memphis and Stateline Road in Southaven.

Additionally, authorities told residents of Post Apartments, situated along I-55, to leave until the chemicals were transferred to another truck.  Lt. Wayne Cooke of the Memphis Fire Department said the overturned tanker was only about 400 feet from the apartments.

People who live there were put on transit buses and taken to a community center.

The interstate finally re-opened in both directions around 3:00 p.m., nearly 14 hours after the accident.

Management at The Post Apartments released the following statement:

Memphis, TN- The Memphis Police Department contacted management at The Post this morning requesting that we evacuate the community due to the accident involving the tanker truck on Interstate 55.

Property employees worked with Police to safely evacuate approximately 50 residents from the community. MATA responded with two buses to help get residents to the Graceland Community Center. No one was hurt in the evacuation. A bedridden resident was transported by ambulance to a safe location. All other residents were not home at the time of the evacuation.

Memphis Police have informed us that once the accident is cleaned up, they will allow everyone back into their apartments.

We thank the Memphis Police Department, Memphis Fire Department and MATA for their help in this situation.

Copyright 2010 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.  The AP contributed to this story.