- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

NACOGDOCHES, Texas Hundreds of pieces of debris from the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia, including charred human remains, were found scattered over eastern Texas, mobilizing local, state and national agencies and search-and-rescue teams.
Though sporadic reports emanated from throughout northern Texas, the affected area generally ranged from Dallas to the east and southeast to the Louisiana line.
Doors were blown open at a Nacogdoches bank, an object thought to be a "control box, with switches" was found along a highway between here and Douglass, and Cory Wilson found a large piece that he described as "several brushes" in Palestine.
Officials with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration warned that toxic fuel on the shuttle made the debris potentially dangerous. Shuttles use a chemical called hydrazine to run their auxiliary power units. Hydrazine, a colorless liquid with an ammonialike odor, can cause harm to anyone who touches it.
Because of potentially hazardous materials in the debris, news outlets, state police and safety officials warned residents throughout the day not to handle any discoveries.
Some ignored the warnings. In several counties, residents wrapped up pieces of debris and carried them to the sheriffs' offices.
"Anybody who has touched any of this, they need to wash themselves off completely, then call their doctor or come to one of our emergency rooms," a nurse at Nacogdoches Medical Center said.
In Hemphill, near the Louisiana state line, hospital employee Mike Gibbs reported finding what appeared to be a charred torso, thigh bone and skull on a rural road near what was believed to be other debris. Billy Smith, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, confirmed the find.
Mr. Gibbs told the Associated Press that he and a friend were driving in Sabine County when they spotted the remains in the middle of the two-lane dirt road.
"I wouldn't want anybody seeing what I saw," Mr. Gibbs said. "It was pretty gruesome."
Fire trucks arrived and blocked the roadway as authorities collected evidence. A hearse left the area last night.
A few miles from that scene, three young brothers found a scorched leg, intact from the hip down, in the family's pasture
Sabine County resident Bob White said his sons ages 8, 6 and 4 jumped out of bed and headed for the pasture on their four-wheelers after the windows began rattling at home.
"They came hauling back up to the house with their eyes wide open," Mr. White told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "They said, 'Dad, there's a leg in our pasture, a human leg.' I didn't believe them. So I went out and looked, and sure enough."
Mr. White said he called the sheriff's department. The remains were taken by hearse from Hemphill to Lufkin to the nearest medical examiner.
In San Augustine County, a flight helmet landed in a yard.
One of the most photographed spots of the day was Nacogdoches, where many heard a loud explosion that rocked buildings and blew open the doors at the Commercial Bank of Texas. In the bank parking lot, next to the Masonic Lodge, was a 3-by-4-foot piece of metal that bank President Tommy Ellison described as looking "like a coated aluminum pot."
When Darlene Johnson arrived at work at a downtown sandwich shop, she found a piece of metal the size of a car door "just stuck there" in the bank parking lot, she said.
"It hit the ground so hard, it tore up the pavement," she said. "There are large pieces of concrete scattered. It's a large piece of metal and you can tell where it's been burned."
By late yesterday, no injuries had been reported from falling pieces of the spacecraft, but several motorists in eastern Texas said small chunks had hit their automobiles.
The first reports of falling materials came within minutes of Mission Control's acknowledgement that it had lost voice contact with the seven-astronaut crew.
Dispatchers throughout eastern Texas were swamped with reports of twisted metal and unidentifiable objects. At least a half-dozen homes were said to have been damaged.
Rescue and investigative units converged on the region, but the sites were too numerous to map properly. By nightfall, scores of residents still were guarding their own finds.
"I know they are tied up all over this part of the state," said Jody Martin, a farmer who found several tiles, bolts and wires near Jasper, "but they're saying these things are dangerous, so they better come get 'em."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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