Volunteer firefighter couple suffering Graniteville effects

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January 5, 2007

GRANITEVILLE, S.C.---Tomorrow is January 6...a somber anniversary in the town of Graniteville.

Two years ago, a train crash shattered the quiet early morning in the mill town.

The chlorine leak that followed killed nine people and sent hundreds to the hospital.

Thousands were evacuated. Crews spent weeks cleaning up, investigating, and getting people back home.

The investigation found crews forgot to put a track switch back in place, causing the crash.

People in the town should start to see the money soon from the class action settlement from Norfolk Southern.

Even though it's been two years, the people affected remember that morning like it was yesterday.

Since the deadly chlorine spill, fewer cars travel down the main artery leading into the small town of Graniteville.

"It's like a ghost town," resident Brenda Reyes told News 12.

Brenda says many are still confined to their homes, where the air quality is guaranteed with the help of a machine. She is one of them.

"I still believe it's more than chlorine making us sick," she said.

Brenda and many others are still suffering from the aftermath of what she considers the town's worst disaster since a tornado in 1921.

The train crash spewed tons of lethal chemicals into the early morning sky, leaving nine people dead.

Brenda and her husband Charles were two of the first volunteer firefighters to respond to the chlorine spill. They left far before the call ever came over the radio, because they live just a few doors down from the fire station, right in front of the railroad tracks.

What they quickly learned was they had no idea what they were facing.

"I saw green and gold specks," Brenda recalled. "I said, 'This is poison.'"

Brenda and Charles didn't even get to the crash site before they were stopped by the gas.

"Coughing so much, and gagging, and I looked and it was blood not mucus."

Now she suffers from burns on her trachea, esophagus and lungs.

"There's very little I can do, still. It's why I'm getting so fat," Brenda said. "If I get down I can't get back up."

Regular house chores like cleaning leave her exhausted and short of breath.

"It's been a miserable two years."

And she was traumatized not just physically but emotionally as well.

"Every time the horn blows, the whistle blows, I get scared. I want to run," she said. "It's still there...you can't get rid of it."

So in many ways, they're reminded of it every day.

Like many in Graniteville, Brenda says their lawsuit against Norfolk Southern has gone before a judge three different times, and her attorneys still haven't been able to agree on a settlement. So they're hurting financially too.

They haven't been able to afford their mortgage, and now they're planning to sell their two homes so they can move away from the tracks.