RALEIGH — Residents and businesses evacuated after the explosion at a hazardous waste warehouse in Apex three years ago have two weeks to seek compensation under a class-action suit settlement approved Tuesday.
EQ Industrial Services and two other companies will pay up to $7.85 million to settle the suit. They agree to pay $750 to each household that evacuated following the explosion and up to $2,200 to each business that was forced to close.
Households and business owners have until Oct. 20 to file a claim. Claims forms were mailed this summer to each address in the evacuation zones and are available at www.apexfiresettlement.com.
About 1,900 of the more than 3,000 eligible households in the evacuation zones have filed claims so far, said Robert Zaytoun, one of the lawyers who brought the class-action suit.
Zaytoun expects that the number of claims will rise as the deadline nears.
"There's always a rush at the end," he said.
As many as 15,000 residents were forced or encouraged to leave their homes after the EQ warehouse exploded on the night of Oct. 5, 2006. The inferno sent fireballs into the air and a pungent cloud of smoke and chemicals through nearby neighborhoods.
The settlement includes $2.9 million in plaintiffs' attorney fees and $322,000 in expenses. The town could receive up to $85,000 for equipment and training. Payments to homeowners and businesses should begin going out just before Christmas.
Zaytoun said money was not the suit's primary aim.
"This is a way of saying that you can't do business, particularly the hazardous waste business, without putting safety first," he said. "It's a loud message I believe that will go beyond this case."
EQ officials said in July that they considered the settlement fair. The payments it requires come on top of voluntary ones the company made to the town and to people affected by the evacuation.
Shortly after the explosion, EQ invited people to submit claims for expenses related to the evacuation, such as restaurant meals and hotels, and paid out about $500,000.
The company paid the town $200,000 to cover its expenses.
In 2007, the state fined EQ for failing to report earlier fires and chemical reactions at its Apex warehouse. The company agreed to pay more than $400,000 in penalties and fees and to give up its permit to operate in Apex.
U.S. District Judge Earl Britt approved a preliminary version of the class-action suit settlement in July and gave his final blessing Tuesday after a hearing.
No one objected to the settlement at the hearing.
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