Police and other emergency officials are on the scene of a reported chemical spill of several hundred gallons at Bekaert off Darlington Drive in Rome.

So far, two people have been taken to Floyd Medical Center for treatment related to the incident, said Donna Thompson Braden, public relations at Floyd Medical Center, around 1:30 p.m. Another five walked in later with respiratory complaints. They were still being examined around 2:25 p.m., she said.

Floyd Emergency Management Director Scotty Hancock is at the scene, and homes and businesses have been evacuated. Three buses from the Rome Transit Department were sent to help evacuate citizens.

Floyd County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell said a perimeter was immediately set up around the area and that in addition to responding to the spill, law enforcement focused on managing traffic and getting people out and around the area.

911 reported at around 2 p.m. that all roads in the area had been reopened, except for Old Lindale Road and Maple Road, which remain closed.

A decontamination unit has been dispatched.

As 12:40 p.m., 911 was reporting that individuals as far away as Dragon Drive in Lindale had reported breathing problems, and that Sara Lee Bakery has been told to shut down its ventilation system.

At 12:45 p.m., police radio traffic indicated the spill was hydrochloric acid.

Craig McDaniel, president of Coosa Valley Technical College, said just before 1 p.m. that the college has evacuated and classes have been canceled this afternoon.

“We’ve been ordered to evacuate campus here," he said. "We’re canceling classes for this evening. Won’t have any classes on this campus at all this morning. We’ll make a decision about classes tomorrow later, but as of right now it’s way too early."

Floyd and Polk EMS units had set up a triage unit at Gilbreath Recreation Center by about 1 p.m., and evacuees were taken there.

Andy Armstrong was among those evacuated. He was babysitting his brother’s two young children when a man with a gas mask knocked on the door.

"The kids saw him first and started squawking," Armstrong said.

He and the children rode a Rome Transit Department bus to the rec center.

"It was cool for the kids because these little guys got to ride a school bus," he said.

Red Cross volunteers have been sent to provide food and drinks for evacuees and emergency personnel.

McHenry Primary School and the Floyd County College and Career Academy were on lockdown for a time, but that ended by around 1:30 p.m., according to school officials.

Students also remained at Darlington School, which was on a self-imposed lockdown until around 2:15 p.m., school officials said.

“The police have told us to lock our kids inside and turn off the ventilation system," Headmaster Tom Whitworth said earlier in the afternoon. "We are in a lock down situation here. Police have said to keep the students at the school until further notice."

A state tournament basketball game scheduled for tonight at Darlington is still planned, said Athletic Director Bob Stinchcomb.

Bekaert manufatures drawn steel wire products. The Rome plant’s two major products are reinforcement beadwires for tires and reinforcement wires for high-pressure hoses.

Local first responders practiced for a chemical spill at Bekaert during a training exercise in October.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, hydrochloric acid penetrates via the skin or through inhalation.

In addition to burns, it can cause damage to the heart and lungs through prolonged or significant exposure. Treatment focuses on washing contaminated skin with water for 15 minutes and administering oxygen.

Rome News Tribune