Local News

Man medevacked after Sitka ammonia leak

Workers from seafood processors near downtown Sitka walk down Katlian Street after being evacuated Monday morning. An ammonia leak from a tied-up vessel forced the closure of the road and the evacuation of nearby buildings. (KCAW photo by Erik Neumann)

Workers from seafood processors near downtown Sitka walk down Katlian Street after Monday morning’s evacuation. An ammonia leak from a tied-up vessel forced the closure of the road and the evacuation of nearby buildings. (KCAW photo by Erik Neumann)

A man was medevacked from Sitka to Seattle on Monday after sustaining injuries in an ammonia leak aboard a processing vessel. The boat was tied to the dock at Sitka Sound Seafoods at the time, causing the evacuation of more than 150 employees at the seafood processor, and a voluntary evacuation from the rest Sitka’s waterfront.

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Workers evacuate after an ammonia leak from a boat tied up at Sitka Sound Seafoods. The leak happened at about 11:15 a.m., and was contained shortly afterward. Workers were told to go to lunch and meet back at 1 p.m. in the break room. (KCAW photo by Erik Neumann)

Workers evacuate after an ammonia leak from a boat tied up at Sitka Sound Seafoods. The leak happened at about 11:15 a.m., and was contained shortly afterward. Workers were told to go to lunch and meet back at 1 p.m. in the break room. (KCAW photo by Erik Neumann)

With supervisors pointing the way, employees streamed from Sitka Sound Seafoods on Monday morning, many still wearing the blue helmets they use inside the plant.

“The leak is coming out toward the street now, so we have to go upwind from the ammonia,” said packer and truck driver Desi Barmore, as he walked down Katlian Street.

Barmore and about 150 of his coworkers wound up in the parking lot at ANB Harbor, a couple blocks away. Workers in neighboring office buildings also evacuated, including at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. Police shut down Katlian Street for about an hour, turning away pedestrians and motorists headed toward the plant.

The evacuation came after firefighters responded to a call for help around 11:15 a.m.

“We got a 911 call at about that time that said there’s a man down at the end of the Sitka Sound Seafood dock, for an unknown reason,” Sitka fire Chief Dave Miller said. “We responded down there, and there definitely was a man down at the end of the dock, and there was a strong ammonia smell all over the dock at the time, right where he was at.”

Miller said variable winds at the time of the incident complicated things.

“The wind was blowing in different areas… to the south, west, east, west and back and forth,” he said. “And one of the times it was not covering this guy, we were able to go in and get him out of there real fast.”

Responders loaded the man, who was not identified, onto another boat to get him away from the ammonia. He was then taken to Sitka Community Hospital, and later medevacked to Seattle. One other person wound up at Community complaining of ammonia exposure symptoms. Miller says another two went to SEARHC Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital for the same thing.

The ammonia leak was quickly contained, but the odor was noticeable up and down Katlian Street and in portions of Sitka’s downtown area. Sitka Sound Seafoods manager Tim Ryan refused to comment to KCAW, and referred us instead to the company’s corporate office in Seattle. A message left there was not returned as of our deadline.

The vessel with the leak — the Eigil B — was towed away from town to allow the ammonia to dissipate. The Eigil B is an 86-foot tender vessel registered out of Auburn, Washington.

KCAW’s Erik Neumann contributed to this report.

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