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La. town evacuated as explosives removed

DOYLINE, La. — The cleanup of 3,000 tons of explosives haphazardly stored at a munitions plant has frayed the nerves of residents who evacuated, closed the high school and spawned a criminal investigation of the company that owns the materials.

Authorities said about half the town's 800 residents heeded requests that they leave during the cleanup, which started Saturday, but some appeared to be trickling back to their homes.

Some displaced residents were exasperated by the volume of explosive material, which is more than authorities initially estimated. Adding to the uncertainty was a forecast of thunderstorms Tuesday that could slow efforts to move the propellant used in artillery shells to safer storage sites.

"We got outside the evacuation area when they said there was a million pounds. Now it's six million," said Frank Peetz, 71, who was staying with his wife in a camper among several displaced residents at a nearby state park. "Maybe we ought to be up in Arkansas somewhere."

State police say some of the propellant was found spilling out of boxes crammed into buildings, and they have opened a criminal investigation into why the materials were not stored in bunkers at the state-owned site, leased by Explo Systems.

Weather could complicate the transfer of roughly 6 million pounds of explosives. If lightning is spotted within five miles of the site, authorities will suspend efforts to move the artillery propellant, Lt. Julie Lewis said. No lightning was expected Monday, but thunderstorms were forecast for Tuesday.

Col. Michael D. Edmonson, commander of Louisiana State Police, said the material is stable and would need an ignition source to explode. The precautions were taken because officials fear any spark could set off a huge explosion of the material, which they said was stored improperly in a relatively small area.

Col. Edmonson was hesitant to estimate when it would be safe for Doyline residents to return home. He said state police weren't sure how much damage an explosion of the material could cause, even after consulting with Department of Defense officials.

"Nobody can tell you what 6 million pounds of explosives would do if it went up," he said in a telephone interview. "And I don't want to find out."

Police have checkpoints on roads leading into Doyline, though residents are allowed to come and go. The evacuation was voluntary, and some residents elected not to leave their homes in the town, which has been used to film some scenes for the HBO vampire series "True Blood."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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