CONYERS, Ga. (AP) -- At least 74 people visited emergency rooms after coming in contact with chemicals released in a massive warehouse fire east of Atlanta, which burned for a second day Wednesday.
The majority had minor respiratory irritation, skin irritation, burning eyes and itchy throats _ ``nothing major at all,'' said Joy Davis, spokeswoman for Rockdale Medical Center, which treated and released about 20 of the patients. The rest went to Newton General Hospital, and five of those were admitted.
Thousands evacuated the area within 1 1/2 miles of Tuesday's blaze and about 570 evacuees sought shelter in one of two local schools.
Authorities had hoped to allow residents to return to their homes Wednesday evening, but only if the wind and firefighting efforts kept the blaze and smoke at bay.
``There's no indication as to when; it depends on how much progress is made on the fire,'' said Buzz Weiss, spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
Although the fire is still under investigation, Rockdale Fire Chief Henry Argo said earlier Wednesday that nothing seemed suspicious.
The blaze at the BioLab Inc. warehouse was fueled by 125 tons of dry chlorine pellets. The chlorine-tinged smoke closed Interstate 20 for hours, and secondary roads near the warehouse remained closed well into Wednesday.
A news release from BioLab says at least $14 million worth of chemicals were destroyed, including 8 million pounds of chlorine-based swimming pool sanitizers.
Ruby Knauers, who was among the thousands forced to leave their homes, said she left because a strong chlorine smell permeated her house.
``You could feel the burning. You started feeling like you wanted to cough or throw up,'' said Knauers, who lives less than a quarter mile from the warehouse, where chlorine and other chemicals for pools and spas were stored.
State Insurance and Fire Commissioner John Oxendine called it the biggest fire in at least a decade in Georgia and predicted it could smolder for days.
A plume of gray, green and white smoke reached a half-mile wide and more than 10 miles long, clearing downtown Conyers.
Lawrenceville-based BioLab is currently the subject of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigation stemming from the April 17 release of a substance known as trichloroisocyanuric acid into the air, said EPA spokeswoman Dawn Harris Young. The substance is a chlorinating agent and disinfectant.
She could not comment further, as the case was still under investigation.