Piedmont College hit by chemical explosion


The following was written by a student reporter from the disaster drill as if the disaster actually happened

By Janie Harris

Staff Writer

Smoke mixed with screams on Wednesday morning in the Swanson Center Parking Lot as victims experienced the effects of a chemical explosion. 

“It was horrible,” said victim, Michelle Jarrard.

Victims were covered in a white powder and laid strewn around a central location where overturned chairs surrounded broken flasks and the shell of a car battery.

Once victims were taken through Haz-Mat’s decontamination tent, they were treated based on the severity of their injury according to multiple nurses on the scene.

Grace Griffith, a nurse on the scene, explained how victims were extremely confused and not many knew what was happening around them.

“They didn’t really know what had happened,” said Griffith. 

Nine victims were pronounced dead upon arrival of emergency services. Three were airlifted to Grady Hospital in Atlanta. Seventeen were critically wounded and are awaiting transport. Eight-teen were injured and treated on the scene. Twenty-seven walked away with only minor injuries. 

Elizabeth Ellison was a victim who experienced an asthma attack due to exposure to the chemicals. She is just one of more than 70 victims affected, but it took some time before emergency services took action. 

“People were not reacting as fast as they should have been,” Ellison said. 

Ellison said that the explosion happened about 10 a.m. Emergency services did not take action till about 10:30 a.m. 

Still, Christa Wilson, a nurse on the scene, believed that they were well prepared for an emergency of this magnitude. 

According to Demorest Public Information Officer, Lynn Smith, this event was a sulfuric acid explosion. 

According to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Service’s Right to Know Program, sulfuric acid is also known as battery acid. Exposure to sulfuric acid, depending on how an individual is exposed, has multiple effects. If inhaled, it can irritate the nose, throat, and lungs- even possibly causing the lungs to build up fluid. It can also cause headache, nausea, and vomiting. Contact with sulfuric acid could burn and irritate one’s skin and eyes, possibly causing an individual to go blind. 

According to Smith, there was one arrest. A non-Piedmont student was taken into custody and was said to have had a weapon in his possession. His involvement in the explosion has not yet been identified. He is currently being held in the Habersham County Jail.