Anxious Doyline community members gathered during a Town Hall meeting Thursday night to hear reasons why they are being asked to leave their homes this weekend and ask questions of the officials who are asking them to do so.
Commercial-ready product stored in bunkers belonging to Explo System, Inc. has been purchased and shipped to buyers, making room for the more than one million pounds of M6, a smokeless explosive propellant, that has been improperly stored – outdoors on pallets in cardboard boxes.
Mallory Stewart, who lives inside the town limits, plans on evacuating and staying with friends in Webster Parish, outside of the danger zone.
"I feel it is dangerous to stay," she said. "My grandmother lives in Doyline and we are trying to talk her into leaving, but she hasn't made up her mind yet."
Stewart said her grandmother's reservations are warranted.
"She is scared of someone breaking into her house," Stewart explained. "She thinks that while everyone is gone, burglars will see this as an opportunity to break into people's houses and take things. That is one of my concerns as well, will there be law enforcement to make sure we don't have any break-ins?"
Stewart's question, which was asked by others at the meeting, was answered by Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton.
"I'm going to flood this town with law enforcement," he said. "Know that if you leave, I will have people patrolling, keeping your property safe. Even as we are in this meeting, I have about six units patrolling the streets. Also, know that if you choose to stay, carry your I.D. with you. This is not a mandatory evacuation, but if you choose to stay, we are asking that you help us keep people and property safe by not going out after dark – there is a curfew – and by cooperating with deputies."
Sexton said additional personnel has arrived from other parishes and will be sworn in and given the same authority as Webster Parish Sheriff deputies.
"You may not recognize their cars or uniforms, but I'm asking that if you are stopped and asked to present I.D., that you cooperate," Sexton said. "There will be certain scenarios where we will allow people back into Doyline after we start Saturday morning, but you will need your I.D. and a good reason."
Sexton said access to Doyline will be limited to residents of the area and those with legitimate purpose for being in the area. He said those looking to return to Doyline should access the town from Hwy. 163 and area roads up to and including Amos Cutoff will still be accessible. Those traveling on 164 from Minden can bypass Doyline by taking Amos Cutoff, going south on 163.
Stewart said she remembers roads being closed after a 2006 Explo explosion that caused Doyline to be evacuated.
"I remember the big boom back when I was in high school," she said. "It shook the walls and tiles came down from the ceiling, lights flickered and that was the first time I know of the area being evacuated."
Stewart said she is uncomfortable with Explo's operations.
"It's disturbing that all that material is not being stored in a climate-controlled area, just left standing outside in cardboard boxes," she said. "I can't even explain in words how much it bothers me – that the whole entire company doesn't have enough sense to know better, doesn't know how dangerous it is.
"That is government property and while it may not be none of my business what is stored there, if it explodes and it harms members of my family or my family suffers property damage, it's my business then," she continued.
Stewart thinks companies that lease property on Camp Minden have responsibilities to the public.
"I think it is their responsibility to keep the civilians safe," she said. "We are just about a mile and half or less from all those explosives and it is their responsibility to make sure it doesn't explode. Keeping the material stored the way it is now, is very irresponsible. They should know better."
Several town hall meeting atendees agreed with Stewart. Questions to officials about the responsibilities of this and other incidents were met with applause at the town hall meeting.
Rep. Gene Reynolds responded to questions, noting that as an elected official, he would do his part to take the will of the community to Baton Rouge.
"I had a long talk with Jeff Thompson, Representative from Bossier, and he and I have come up with an idea," Reynolds said. "The first thing we want to do is convene a homeland security meeting in January. At that meeting, which I hope a lot of you will attend, we want to address who is in charge of security, who is in charge of the oversight.
"What we also want to address is, do you want this here?" he asked the audience, that responded with murmurs of "no."
"Is this something we want in our community," Reynolds continued. "That's something that you are going to have to let us know, so we can go down there and legislatively change some things to make it what you want."
The vast amount of hazardous material was found earlier this week by Louisiana State Police as part of a follow-up investigation of Explo, after an explosion on October 15.
The investigation is ongoing and officials told Doyline residents many of their questions would be answered as the investigation continues and is concluded.
"It is my understanding there is a class action lawsuit against Explo in the works," Sexton said. "That isn't official and I don't know that for sure. I don't know if you will be reimbursed for a hotel if you choose to stay in one this weekend. I do know it would be a smart, prudent thing to do – to leave as we are handling this product.
"The human element is what we are most concerned about," he continued. "As the product sits right now, it is stable. It is when we go to move it that something may go wrong."
Caney Conference Center on Methodist Camp Road will serve as a shelter for Doyline residents who have nowhere else to go or means for other accommodations.
For more information contact the Webster Parish Sheriff's Office at 377-1515. Authorities remind the community that 9-1-1 is an emergency only number.