|Complaints About The
May 3, 2001
When the sirens went off on May 1, 2001, signaling the General Chemical release, I immediately turned on the television to KCRT for information. It was some 15-20 minutes before the normal scrolling of announcements stopped and the release information came on. The first place I was able to get information was on my scanner listening to the radio and television talking with their field reporters about the release (Since the City went to the 800 mz system, my scanner will not monitor police and fire). Unfortunately, when KCRT finally started carrying information about the release, it was erroneous. The announcement on the screen indicated that the release was affecting the “Point Richmond” area. I knew this was wrong because I could see the release from my house, and it was traveling generally east from General Chemical across the rail yards to the Iron Triangle.
Point Richmond was never in the alert area, which was only geographically described much later by KCRT. However, a woman told me today that a firefighter came into the Santa Fe Market in the late afternoon and started a minor panic by telling everyone that they should be sheltering in place. The Iron Triangle, which was downwind from the release, did not get accurate information from KCRT.
Another citizen related to me the following: “Yesterday at about 6:00 pm I was driving on the Richmond Parkway from Hilltop back to Marina Bay. Although the shelter in place order had been rescinded about an hour or so earlier, the Richmond Police were still diverting traffic from the Parkway just before the Castro St. exit from the parkway. We were directed onto the surface streets into North Richmond with no other directions afterward as to how to get out of the area. I became lost along with a number of other cars that had been diverted just before and just after I was. I finally felt my way out but had to traverse a significant portion of the Iron Triangle as well, since every east-west street was blocked by police personnel all the way to the 580 freeway.”
Still another citizen related the following: “As expected each of the major TV stations was giving their own conflicting versions of what was happening and, as expected, they were sensationalizing things by interviewing every frightened and overreacting citizen they could get a hold of. If the City thinks that the people can trust the media to give them accurate information, they’re living in a bigger dream world than I thought (although the City TV station gives these very same media outlets as the source for information). I tried listening to AM 790 (as instructed by the City) but got nothing but static.
When I reached Point Molate, I was told by the Richmond Police Officer in attendance that the entire west side of Richmond, from I-80 to the bay was closed off and all citizens were required to secure in place. I’ve worked with situations similar to this all my life and knew fully well that the risk at Point Molate was extremely minimal.
What I saw at Point Molate and later, though, still has me concerned. The police officer was complaining of tingling and swollen hands, itchy throat and nausea. Never mind that she was two and half miles upwind with a 500-foot high ridge separating her from the danger zone. The outside security man was on the phone with his wife who had proceeded first to her attorney even before seeking medical attention.The area that the City cordoned off was a half-mile radius from General Chemical, yet the citizens were being told scant information by the City, and what they were being told was horrifically inaccurate. The biggest problem had little to do with the actual release of chemicals and had much more to do with the rampaging fear generated by the lack of reliable information.”