Tanker rollover closes stretch of I-93

LONDONDERRY – A stretch of Interstate 93 was closed for more than eight hours Tuesday after a tanker truck carrying 10,000 gallons of gasoline overturned.

The driver, James Clapp, 49, of Hudson, was transported by ambulance to Elliot Hospital in Manchester where he was treated for multiple injuries, police said. He was listed in fair condition Tuesday night.Clapp was traveling northbound between Exits 4 and 5 around 6 a.m. when his tractor-trailer veered off the road and entered the median, said Bill Boynton, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. Clapp was the truck’s only occupant.

Northbound lanes were closed until 2:40 p.m., Boynton said, because the tanker was leaking fuel and the gas had to be removed from the scene.

“This was not something like eggs on the road where you can just get it out of there,” Boynton said. “There was a safety concern.”

About 200 gallons of fuel leaked and the environmental impact appeared minimal, officials said.

According to police, southbound traffic was reduced to one lane while fire crews from Londonderry and surrounding towns worked to clean the spilled fuel. By 2:15 p.m., the southbound lanes were fully operational, Boynton said.

State Trooper Philip Akstin was the first officer to arrive on the scene Tuesday morning. He said the tanker was lying in the median facing north while the cab, which was missing its roof, was facing south.

“It looked like it was jackknifed,” Akstin said.

An off-duty firefighter was assisting Clapp, who was lying on the ground but was alert and talking, Akstin said. He was not sure whether the driver was thrown from the cab or escaped after the accident.

Approximately 20 to 40 cars were stopped behind the accident when he arrived on the scene. Soon after, Akstin said he could smell gasoline fumes and knew he needed to get those drivers away from the tanker.

“Once you could smell the fumes we shut down 93,” Akstin said.

Akstin blocked the Exit 4 northbound entrance ramp with his cruiser and instructed motorists to turn around and drive the wrong way to exit the interstate. It took police an hour to clear all of the vehicles, he said.

Clean Harbors Environmental Services, a private company that responds to emergency situations, arrived on the scene just before 7 a.m. after receiving a call from the state Department of Environmental Services.

A representative for Clean Harbors said the company brought a truck with a vacuum pump to remove the fuel from the overturned tanker. It took about four hours for all of the fuel to be transferred, he said.

The I-93 closure frustrated many area motorists, said Akstin, who directed traffic near Exit 4 while the accident was being cleaned up.

“They’re going crazy,” Akstin said Tuesday afternoon.

Motorists traveling northbound had to get off I-93 at Exit 4 and were rerouted through Derry and Londonderry.

Department of Transportation employee Pete Pelletier stood across the intersection from Akstin and helped direct traffic. He said local roads were busier than normal and drivers were confused by the detour.

“People get off the highway and don’t know where to go,” Pelletier said.

It was almost 3 p.m. before the tanker was towed away and the interstate was reopened in both directions. State officials wanted the interstate to be clear for afternoon rush hour traffic.

Between 8 p.m. and midnight, police and Clean Harbors officials expected to return to the scene and reduce traffic again to test the soil near the spill.

Trooper Bryan Trask of the New Hampshire State Police Troop B is investigating the accident. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact him at 672-3333.