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Downtown scene 'crazy'

October 12, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - Yellow decontamination tents and emergency vehicles clogged one of Hagerstown's main streets Wednesday after emergency officials treated as a contaminated scene the area outside apartments where some tenants, including African refugees, were rumored to be ill.

Residents crowded around yellow police tape to watch paramedics wearing blue face masks and other officials in full protective suits confer outside 25 1/2 W. Franklin St. The street was closed for several hours from Potomac Street to an area near the U.S. Post Office.

"They didn't tell us anything, they can't tell us anything," said Kim Taylor, a County Commuter driver who stood outside bus No. 438 awaiting orders. She said she had been called in during her off-hours to transport people to a hospital, though as the situation unfolded, she did not know where.

After only two of the people in the apartments were taken to Washington County Hospital, Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker offered no reason why officials took the measures they did.

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At the intersection of Potomac and West Franklin streets earlier in the evening, Eugene Smith argued with two men posted to monitor the area.

Smith, who eventually was allowed to proceed, explained he only wanted to turn off an alarm system at his workplace.

"I live at the other end of the street - 64 1/2 W. Franklin St. - and I work for Soul Haven," Smith said. "All I want to do is get that alarm off."

While some people at the scene said they were drawn to the street after hearing the commotion on sirens and scanners, Shelley Radcliff explained she lived in the building that had attracted all of the attention.

"I just walked in, and some woman was lying on the floor, and the cop was talking to her," said Radcliff, who sat on the County Commuter bus eating food prepared for rescue workers. She said her neighbors were throwing up, and she had been told she could not return to her apartment.

Daniel Robinson, of East Franklin Street, said a fatal shooting in the summer and the contamination fears have him rethinking where he lives.

"First, there was the killing on Franklin, and now this. I don't think I want to stay," said Robinson, who watched the situation develop from where he was sitting on the steps of The Boutique across from City Hall.

The situation also affected business at The Broad Axe, where a handful of customers divided their attention between television news and the people walking outside in decontamination suits. Though yellow tape marked off the area surrounding the bar, it still was accessible by a back door.

Part-owner Joseph Arias said he was told to lock the front door.

"Wednesday is one of our biggest nights," he said.

Outside, firetrucks with engines still running spewed exhaust, and officials met in groups periodically to discuss the situation. At one point, Hawbaker explained no one was ill.

As firefighters began rolling up hoses, paramedics helped one weak, elderly woman onto a stretcher.

Outside the fire department's Pioneer Hook and Ladder Co., Radcliff stood with keys in hand, ready to return to her apartment.

She said she was planning to go to a friend's house to receive a phone call she had been expecting from her boyfriend. Beside being forced from her home, she said police vehicles had blocked in her own vehicle.

Radcliff said she had been told the whole situation escalated when an officer discovered one pregnant woman suffering from morning sickness.

"That's just crazy," she said.

Staff writer Erin Cunningham contributed to this story.

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