HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Officials now say a car involved in a fatal crash late Saturday night was stolen just before it crashed into an utility station, releasing a toxic cloud of chlorine.
Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson confirmed Sunday morning that the BMW convertible was stolen one to two hours before the crash. The sheriff also said speeding likely caused the accident.
Two people died in the wreck when the car slammed into the utility station, rupturing a large tank of chlorine. According to coroner Gary Hargrove, authorities are still working to identify the two victims who died in the crash.
The wreck happened around 9:30 p.m. on Palmer Creek Drive, near East Wortham Road in the northern part of the county.
Emergency responders finished cleaning up the scene shortly before dawn Sunday.
A cloud of the toxic chemical was then released into the air, making the area a dangerous place to be as multiple agencies worked to clean it up.
Authorities were finished securing the scene and cleaning up by daylight Sunday. However, Harrison County Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said the entire process is very labor-intensive and takes multiple crews hours to handle.
"These operations are not something that happen quickly because safety is our primary concern," he said. "We have to get all of our agencies involved. We have to get everybody together. We have to have our planning and put together a plan, make sure everybody knows what their job is and who's doing what. Then we go in. We send teams in, and we send back up teams with those teams. We have decontamination teams that go in that decontaminate the people that go in that may get product on them as they go in."
According to Sullivan, authorities initially responded to a report of a chlorine leak. When they arrived, they found the two deceased people inside the car.
"We had people that suited up, went in, and determined that, yes the people that were in the wreck were deceased and that there was a chlorine leak," said Sullivan.
Once authorities determined that there was a leak, Sullivan said they quickly cordoned off the area and told residents to close their homes up so the chemical did not get inside.
"We went to the homes in the immediate area that would be immediately impacted," said Sullivan. "Then we shut the neighborhood off on both ends so that we had no movement or cars going in or out so that nobody could get into the cloud."
The fire chief says that toxic cloud of gas left some of the first responders on the scene injured as they fought to try and rescue the people inside the vehicle.
"There was actually a cloud," said Sullivan. "Several deputies and at least one firefighter were treated on the scene because they were trying to get in there to get to the people that were in the wreck."
All of the first responders are expected to be okay.
We will continue to update this story as new information becomes available.