Rockton residents describe massive Chemtool explosion that prompted evacuation

Local News

ROCKTON, Ill. (WTVO) — Residents across the region can see smoke filling the air, and debris tumbling down from the plant.

Our crews have been on the scene all day in Rockton. In the evacuation zone, there are chunks of debris scattered all across. Some as big as a car window.

We spoke with a resident who lives quite a ways away from the plant and his front lawn was still littered with debris

“This morning I woke up getting ready for work and heard what sounded like large construction on Route 2. And dogs started barking. [I] wasn’t too concerned anything bad was happening,” said Rockton resident Laura Buffum.

What started as an ordinary day turned into anything but that for Rockton resident Laura Buffum when she saw her neighbors gathering outside.

“That’s when I decided to go out and find out what’s really going on my one neighbor knew something was exploding and we could see large plumes of black smoke,” Buffum explained.

After briefly evacuating to Machesney Park, Buffum returned to her home.

“When I got home, I noticed bigger explosions and a larger flame area. You could really tell the fire was growing and that was about 9:30 this morning,” said Buffum. They said ‘I’d recommend if you can grab your pets, grab your animals, grab any necessities and get out of here for a few hours,’ and that’s when I learned it’s a forced evacuation,

Buffum along with her two daughters, father, and pets came to Roscoe Middle School to get some relief. Fire officials say the evacuation site will remain open for those who need it.

“This is my opinion. Being off-site could be a multi-day task if you will before it all calms down,” said Harlem- Roscoe Fire Chief Don Shoevlin.

Local business owners went to the site to lend a hand and provide supplies.

“This is a small community and when someone is in need everybody comes through I’m one of many businesses that are here saying what can I do to help,” said Toni Vanderheyden of Keller Willams Realty.

Buffum says she is concerned about her home but is grateful to be safe with her family.

“We’re safe and we got the most essential things and that’s all that matters right now,” she added.

“It was shortly after 8 o’clock when I heard a really low sound,” said Rockton resident Brian Taylor.

About 30 minutes later, Rockton resident Brian Taylor noticed black debris flying and landing in his front yard.

“When I stepped outside I saw the smoke plumes coming up and debris was falling from the sky,” Taylor described. “It’s everywhere. Huge pieces coming down.”

“I’m afraid for myself and for my neighbors,” Taylor explained. “With as dry as it’s been, my worry is that it would cause grass fire, and with all of the fire crews taken up, I’m sure that there’s not going to be a lot of capacity for them to be able to help if something like this happens.”

Megan Gagliano lives on Watts Avenue–directly across the railroad tracks from the plant. She and her family rushed out of the house this morning and went to her sister’s for safety.

“My other sister they live in Machesney Park and they had debris in their pool in the backyard all the way in Machesney park,” said Gagliano.

Many Stateline residents are now having to do the same.

“I think it does need to be cleaned up, we have pets and I worry about whether they might eat some of this and because — this looks like a big piece of insulation, but some of the other debris you don’t know what it is and so I think it needs to be cleaned up,” Taylor said. “I feel really bad for anyone who’s within the vicinity of Rockton today.”

The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services has deployed a mobile feeding unit, as well as a field kitchen and rapid response unit to provide meals, snacks, and hydration to first responders.

Teams are prepared to give assistance for the next three days.

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