updated 10/19/2006 10:50:35 PM ET 2006-10-20T02:50:35

A railroad tanker spewing hydrochloric acid forced the evacuation of about 200 homes Thursday as rainfall threatened to pollute the air with toxic fumes in this town along the Tennessee line.

The evacuation, which also included two schools and a seed company with several dozen employees, stretched about a half-mile north and east of the rail yard, officials said. As a precaution, a couple of residential blocks in South Fulton, Tenn., also were evacuated, said Fulton City Manager Kenney Etherton.

The first attempt by a chemical-response team to patch the leak failed, Maxwell said. Hazardous materials teams were trying to patch a hole on the bottom of the tank with a magnetic seal and air bags.

“They were trying to, for lack of better words, put a wooden peg in a hole to plug a leak,” he said.

Hydrochloric acid is a highly corrosive liquid and can cause burns if it comes into direct contact with skin or eyes.

Two people complaining of headaches and a burning sensation in their nose and throat were treated and released from a hospital, said chief nursing officer Libby Larkins.

Paul Maxwell, a local emergency management spokesman said officials were concerned that with the rain, the chemical would turn to gas, which could cause respiratory problems in the town of about 2,500.

Jim Kvedaras, a spokesman for Canadian National Railroad, which owns the train, said it appeared the inner liner of the tanker failed, allowing the chemical to eat through the outer shell of the car.

Maxwell said the tanker originally contained 187,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid, but he didn’t know how much had leaked.

Shelters were set up at a Methodist church in Fulton and at a Baptist church just across the state line in Tennessee.

All residents were expected to be allowed to return to their homes early Friday, officials said.

“Once the leak has stopped, we have the material on scene to be able to absorb the chemical,” Etherton said. “And if there is contamination, it will be isolated.”

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