BY KEVIN CULPEPPER
CONYERS — Many local businesses throughout Conyers and Rockdale County were shut down and all outdoor activities in the Newton County School System (NCSS) were canceled in the wake of the fire which occurred at the BioLab Inc. facility off Rockdale Industrial Blvd. in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
“I actually went to my store in Olde Town this morning, but I was quickly told by police to please leave the area,” said Vince Evans, the owner of Evans Pharmacy on Center Street. “We will most likely be closed all of today, but if conditions continue to improve throughout the day, I expect us to be able to reopen tomorrow (Wednesday) at our regular time.”
Ed Cowan noted that the Cowan Ace Hardware store on Green Street closed pretty quickly, but that it was business as usual for the store on Honey Creek Road.
“My son Joe, who runs the store now, called me about 6:30 this morning to tell me they were not going to open,” said Cowan. “A few people had shown up for work, but they were sent home for the day. But our other store on Honey Creek Road opened at the regular time, and as far as I know, there has been no drop-off in their number of customers.”
When Cherokee Run Golf Club General Manager Wayne Ackerson was reached, he said that he was the only person remaining at the golf course, which is located on Centennial Olympic Parkway.
“Our employees came in this morning, but the smoke got so bad that I sent everyone home,” said Ackerson. “It is better now, but I will make the final decision on whether to be open on Wednesday as soon as I know for sure that the area is completely safe.”
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber said that the Supercenter located on Dogwood Drive would most likely be closed for several hours.
“We closed early Tuesday and there is no way of knowing when we will reopen,” said Weber in the afternoon. “My best guess is that we will be closed between 12 and 16 hours, but we will not reopen until it is safe. We are trying to help those displaced by the evacuation, however, by donating food and water.”
NCSS Director of Public Relations Sherri Viniard said that she and Superintendent Wendell Clamp drove around part of Newton County checking out the areas surrounding some of the schools before a final decision was made to keep the schools open.
“We decided to cancel all outdoor activities for the schools after conferring with Fire Marshal Johnny Evans and Emergency Management Director Trey Polk,” said Viniard. “After visiting three schools and driving by others, the decision was made by Dr. Clamp that the best and safest place for all the kids to be right now is in school. And while we did not cancel classes at any of the schools, we had some of them turn their air conditioning units off as a precaution.”
Viniard said that unless something changed late on Tuesday, schools would be open normal hours on Wednesday.
Classes ended in the Rockdale County School System last Friday. While Covington businesses were able to stay open during the fire, some were responding to the concerns of local residents. Employees with the Super Kmart located in the Covington Gallery Shopping Center on Turner Lake Road moved their dust masks to the front of the store where they would be seen as shoppers entered the store. As of late Tuesday afternoon, the store only had a few masks remaining in stock.