Southern California -- this just in
Angry residents crowd meeting over Richmond refinery fire
Several hundred people -- many holding protest signs, some with face masks and one in a full biohazard suit complete with gas mask -- turned out Tuesday evening for an emotional town hall meeting about the Chevron refinery fire in the Bay Area city of Richmond, filling every seat on the floor of the Richmond Memorial Auditorium and crowding the back of the cavernous room.
They booed refinery General Manager Nigel Hearne when he again apologized for Monday's incident. They shouted down Randall Sawyer, Contra Costa County director of hazardous materials. And they spoke out over Katherine Hearn of the county’s Community Awareness and Emergency Response Department, who tried to talk about the region’s warning system.
“It didn’t work in my neighborhood,” one woman yelled out over the soft-spoken Hearn.
Dr. Wendel Brunner, county director of public health, was the rare official the crowd applauded during the restive 2 1/2-hour meeting. Brunner said that initial reports of 425 people going to the emergency room during and after the fire had risen to 949 by Tuesday evening.
“Fortunately, of the 949, none had been injured enough that they had to be admitted to the hospital,” Brunner told the crowd. “Just because no one was injured enough that they didn’t have to be admitted to the hospital doesn’t mean this is OK. Just because they will recover ... it doesn’t mean that this exposure is OK or acceptable.”
The meeting's question-and-answer session immediately turned into a verbal brawl, which didn't stop until the meeting ended at 8:30 p.m. and what was left of the crowd surrounded the stage. Police officers stood by as audience members pressed officials for more answers.
A furious and distrustful Rev. Kenneth Davis was the first speaker to take the microphone, and he refused to give it up. “Where can I shelter? How long can I hold my breath?” Davis demanded. “What about our dogs, our cats, our chickens, our children?”
After audience members shouted, “Give up the mike! Give up the mike!” it was Charlie Walker’s turn to talk. The 79-year-old grandfather told the audience that the meeting was “nothing but an act of futility” and urged them, “Don’t get mad.”
“These people don’t know what they’re talking about,” Walker said of the panel of officials. “Not one of them has the authority to say what they’re going to do. The fire never should have gotten that far out of hand. They say they’re sorry? They’re the sorriest people around.”