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Evacuation Jolts Neighborhoods, Schools Some Panic, But Resignation, Amusement Were The Norm

Thu., Sept. 14, 1995

“Why am I leaving?” asked Beth Randolph. “Can someone tell me why they have explosives so close to a neighborhood?”

Randolph’s reaction was typical, as police turned two bustling neighborhoods into ghost towns and school officials grappled to send children to safety. The American Red Cross, meanwhile, scrambled to find food and housing for evacuees.

Facing the potential for a mega-ton blast at Rimrock Explosives, several hundred people left a handful of businesses and 150 homes in the Pineview and Emerald Estate subdivisions north of Coeur d’Alene. Sheriff’s deputies rolled door-to-door and stopped cars in the street, urging residents to scram.

Few people realized they lived so close to an explosives plant.

Most homeowners left quickly, not knowing when - or if - they would return. Their world seemed frozen.

Garage doors stood open. A child’s Big Wheel, wheel still spinning, was left overturned on a lawn.

Pentecostal minister Jenny Cortez stood in her driveway, calling out a blessing. Her husband Fred warmed up the car as daughter Liz locked the doors.

“I call forth the angels of the Lord to come and protect this area,” she said, hands waving in the air, her brightly colored dress swishing around her. “Hallelujah.”

“I’m sending the angels to protect the whole area, not just my house,” she explained. “Everything is in the hands of the Lord.”

Few people packed belongings.

“A fire where they make explosives … I think there’s good reason to be nervous,” said Jason Conklin, 22. “I’m going to grab my grandfather’s old rifle and and get out.”

The tenor of the evacuation more often was amusement, resignation or frustration.

“I don’t really feel like leaving, but I guess we should,” said Arven Thomas, as he and his wife climbed into their motor home.

Scott Gervais, 20, grabbed a pair of fishing poles and his dog Pepper and headed to a Rathdrum lake.

One man spent 10 minutes in his garage, cranking the battery on his Honda Gold Wing motorcycle with a charger.

“I don’t need a ride,” he said. “I’ll leave as soon as I get this thing started.”

Beth Randolph anxiously asked a stranger to help close her electric garage door, frozen open by a power outage.

Fighting back tears, Inez Dahl came to the doors of Hayden Lake Elementary School, hoping her daughter had taken refuge there. Dahl had left her daughter to run to the grocery store and pick up her grandson from school.

Fifteen minutes later, police wouldn’t let her return. So Dahl started looking for the place evacuees were taken.

“I keep a pretty stiff upper lip,” Dahl said. But “it’s pretty frustrating not to know where anybody is.”

Inside the school, teachers and staff calmly united students with the steady stream of parents who came to whisk them away. A man rushed through the doors, breathlessly asked where his daughter was and sprinted away once he knew his wife already had been there.

Principal Kathy Kuntz tried to figure out who lived south of Hayden Avenue and could safely go home. Evacuation buses were canceled before they arrived.

The school has evacuation plans for a fire, but nothing for a citywide event. “We certainly put one together real fast,” Kuntz said, and today will look for ways to improve it.

A half-mile away at Hayden Meadows Elementary School, Keith Jones offered Tootsie Rolls to the few students remaining at 4:30 p.m. and pondered his sixth day as principal. Most parents heard about the danger on the radio or television, and came after their children, he said.

He used to jog through the grounds at the explosives plant, and wasn’t particularly worried when he heard the news. “I knew exactly where it is and I knew there were no homes near it,” Jones said, not realizing that firefighters at one point feared an explosion that would have dwarfed the Oklahoma City bombing.

Carol Hall became manager of Kootenai County’s Red Cross chapter two weeks before the near-disaster struck. “Baptism by fire,” she said, laughing behind a desk covered with open phone books, volunteer lists and a map.

She and Red Cross emergency service director Pat Kelly arranged nurses, beds, blankets and burgers. In the flurry, Hall reassured people who instinctively called the Red Cross.

“Nothing has blown up. Your parents are probably fine,” Hall said to one worried person.

Spokane Red Cross volunteers were on their way to Lake City High School when the evacuation was called off.

“As if homecoming isn’t exciting enough,” exclaimed a relieved John Brumley, the principal, when he finally left the school.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = From staff reports Staff writers Craig Welch, Susan Drumheller, Ken Olsen and Winda Benedetti contributed to this report.


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