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Millions of Bees Freed in Traffic Accident

June 24, 2003

CLAYCOMO, Mo. (AP) _ Bee experts working around the clock were making progress on the ``miserable job″ of getting millions of bees back into hives after a weekend traffic accident set them free.

Shortly after 1:30 a.m. Sunday, a tractor-trailer hauling 520 hives from Oklahoma to Wisconsin slid off a ramp linking Interstate 435 to Interstate 35.

The flatbed trailer overturned in the grass along the road, spilling the hives and breaking them open. Truck driver Steve Beavers of Bartelsville, Okla., was stung repeatedly, as were police, firefighters and tow truck operators responding to the accident.

And despite their protective suits, so were the guys whose job it is to get the bees back into their hives.

``It is just the most miserable job you can dream of,″ said Rheuben Johnson of A-Bee’s at Killcreek Farmn near Olathe, Kan. ``There can be 300,000 bees in a pile, and slick stuff. You get them in a box any way you can. And they’re unhappy.″

At times Monday, Johnson was walking on a layer of live bees two inches thick.

``I haven’t been stung too much this time, probably 15 or 20 times,″ he said. I’m used to it, but it still hurts. If they get you around the eyes, it really hurts.″

The hives, weighing 60 to 100 pounds, accommodate up to 50,000 bees each. The bees are bound for Wisconsin to be used in pollinating cranberries.

The recovery activity attracted the attention of passersby, but not for long.

``You’d be surprised how many people stop, get out of their car and walk up to us,″ Johnson said. ``But once they figure out we’re dealing with honeybees, they’re pretty quick to turn around.″

Johnson said one large truckload of beehives, accounting for about half the total number of bees, had been sent to his farm by 6:30 a.m. Monday. Rainfall delayed the recovery effort some, but skies later cleared and the work continued into the night Monday.

Some of the bees will remain in the area of the accident, and Johnson said he will recommend that the fire department hose the area down to kill the bees so they don’t cause problems for nearby residents, such as those at the Northgate Mobile Estates mobile home park.

``Most of the people who live there have been staying inside,″ Claycomo Fire Chief Kurt Stephenson said. He said, however, that there have been no reports of major problems from bee stings, with most of the bees staying near the accident site rather than flying off to nearby areas.

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