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Thousands Evacuated After Unstable Chemicals Found

May 24, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Thousands of people were evacuated Monday after authorities feared formation of deadly gas from chemicals including cyanide stored at a plating company that was destroyed by fire.

Up to 11,000 residents, elementary school pupils and workers in the Lincoln Heights section northeast of downtown were evacuated by Monday evening. Hundreds sought shelter at Dodger Stadium.

No injuries were reported and no chemical cloud had formed, officials said.

The Builders Hardware Finishers Inc. building was destroyed by a predawn fire that was extinguished by 5 a.m., said fire spokesman Jim Williamson.

The precautionary evacuation was ordered at 11:30 a.m., after hazardous materials crews determined that 26,000 gallons of chemicals housed in the plating company were unstable and could pose a health hazard, Williamson said.

One of the stored chemicals was cyanide and that could combine with other chemicals to create a deadly gas similar to that used in the gas chamber at San Quentin, said fire Inspector Ed Reed.

At least 11,000 people had been evacuated by Monday evening, said Police Sgt. Mario Mojarro. But Fire Department spokesman Greg Acevedo said the number was closer 3,800. The residents were not expected to be allowed back into their homes until midnight at the earliest, authorities said.

″This thing may go on all night,″ police Officer Henry Covarrubias said late Monday.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation center with overnight accommodations under the centerfield bleachers of nearby Dodger Stadium, where about 200 people had arrived by 10 p.m.

″I’m not going to be able to sleep, because I haven’t seen my husband, and my husband doesn’t know where I am,″ said Maria Cruz, at Dodger Stadium with her small son.

A private company was called in to remove the chemicals, Williamson said. Firefighters stood by while the chemicals were removed from the building.

The fire caused an estimated $340,000 damage to the building but the cause of the blaze remained under investigation, Williamson said.

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