COLUMBIA, S.C. – Investigators wearing protective suits and oxygen tanks Saturday discovered the body of a factory worker missing since a train carrying chlorine gas (search) wrecked earlier this week, causing one of the nation's deadliest chemical spills in years.
The worker was found inside the Avondale Mills (search) textile plant in Graniteville, where five workers died after being overcome by the fumes. A total of nine people were killed and more than 250 sickened by the toxic vapors.
The search for the worker delayed crews patching a hole in the train car that was carrying the chlorine gas when the wreck occurred Thursday about 10 miles from the Georgia state line. Debris was moved away from the leaking railcar Saturday and about 40 tons of crushed lime was dropped on the ground to begin neutralizing the chlorine, authorities said.
Thom Berry, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (search), said crews would start removing chlorine from two additional railroad tankers in the next couple days.
More than 5,400 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes and will not be permitted to return until Tuesday at the earliest, officials said.
The National Transportation Safety Board (search) is investigating what caused the freight train carrying 42 cars to collide with a parked train at a crossing next to the plant, where 400 workers were on the night shift making denim and other fabrics.
The search for the missing factory worker, whose identity was not released, had been concentrated in the woods behind the factory because investigators initially thought several workers had fled in that direction.
State and federal environmental officials have conducted air quality tests since the crash and found either low levels of chlorine or none within blocks of the site. Levels at the crash site were higher.
Norfolk Southern has paid for hotel rooms and given $100 Wal-Mart gift cards or checks to people forced to evacuate. Berry said 12 people have defied the order and remained home.
Bobby Riner, who stayed in the home he shares with his brother, said he believes towels plugging the gaps under his doors and plastic on the windows will keep out any toxic vapors from the wreck three blocks away.
"The smell had died down. The wind is blowing away from us, so that has helped some," Riner said. "I think it's probably getting better."
Berry said all authorities could do was collect information to notify the Riners' next-of-kin in case of death. "It was his choice," Berry said.