Old City residents evacuated for hazmat scare

July 14, 2012 3:50:42 PM PDT
It was a rude awakening Saturday morning for some Old City Philadelphia residents who were forced out of their homes because of a hazardous materials scare.

A white van parked in a lot on South 3rd Street near Chestnut in Old City set off a flurry of police and fire activity early Saturday morning. Streets were blocked off and at least one city block was evacuated as police investigated what they called an elaborate scheme to steal cooking oil.

"There are big drums in the back of the van, maybe 300 gallon drums that you can put the cooking oil in," explained Lt. Michael Young.

Philadelphia Police Lt. Michael Young says someone spotted the suspicious activity and called police around 5:00am.

"We called hazmat to make sure the oil was not explosive," said Lt. Young.

And Hazmat called in the bomb squad while people who live on the busy block waited to get back inside their homes.

Evacuees were sent around the corner to an area diner to seek safety and shelter as the scene was actively investigated.

"A fireman came and knocked on the door and said we needed to evacuate the building immediately," said Megan Kohlmiller.

Farmicia, a restaurant that sits right next door to the scene, was also evacuated.

"We had several reservations that were waiting outside in the rain, and then we have staff just getting here at the same time," said Timothy Rissel.

Amid the chaos, the manager was trying to determine if his restaurant was a victim.

Rissel says Farmicia places its used cooking oil in a 55 gallon drum in the lot where the suspicious van was parked. Rissel says he's aware of cooking oil schemes.

"It has happened to restaurants before because what they do is turn it into biodiesel to be used as a fuel source and other things and ultimately it can be sold," Rissel explained.

Police took two male suspects into custody as they continue to investigate. The motivation behind the alleged theft is unclear.

The oil was eventually deemed safe within an hour and evacuees were allowed back home.

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