Update: Michigan Railway Propane Fire

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Note: This is an update on a railroad propane fire in Michigan. The original report indicated that the fire was probably caused by an electronically controlled separation valve (that's the possible y2k tie in and the link to the TB 2000 thread is posted below). This story illustrates the ripple effects of this type of incident.

CSX under new attack for payback process

Tuesday, January 25, 2000

By James L. Smith and Marlon Vaughn JOURNAL STAFF WRITERS

Flint City Councilman Johnnie Coleman blasted CSX for its treatment of residents following Friday's tank car fire, urging people not to accept reimbursements or sign waivers with the railroad company. Railway officials Saturday began offering money to residents evacuated from the one-mile radius of the fire near E. Carpenter Road and Belleview Avenue. But in order to receive the payments, people had to sign a waiver agreeing that CSX had no further responsibility. "I find this appalling that they did this the day after the disaster," Coleman said during Monday's City Council special affairs meeting.

Coleman, whose 3rd Ward was the site of the fire, made his comments on a day when a flood of residents seeking reimbursement for being displaced by a burning railroad tank car has CSX officials searching for a better way to collect applications.

Long lines in frigid temperatures caused frazzled nerves and short tempers at Hasselbring Community Center on Monday, the second day of the reimbursement application process.

Eugene Shumpert, who was evacuated about 5 a.m. Friday from his house near E. Carpenter Road and Horton Avenue, criticized the process. Even the hotel room he got Friday night had no heat. "They make me feel like a victim all over again," Shumpert said. "They do nothing but tell you to come back again tomorrow." Because he works second shift and sometimes doesn't get off until 4 a.m. it is hard for Shumpert to get to the center by 9 a.m. "I'm 53, I can't keep losing that much rest," Shumpert said.

On Saturday, CSX officials offered a financial reimbursement program that offered $100 for individuals and up to $300 for households as well as reimbursement for out-of-pocket living expenses. A spokesman for CSX sympathized with Shumpert and others complaining about the process, but asked for patience. "We will do this as long as it takes," said Gary Wollenhaupt, director of corporate communications at CSX. "We'll be there all this week for sure."

Residents can help by waiting until Wednesday or Thursday to contact the railroad, to space out the number of daily applications. "We know they are anxious to get it over with," Wollenhaupt said. "Nobody likes to stand in line, especially while it's cold." CSX is investigating ways to make the wait better and warmer, he said.

That would suit Melissa Simmons just fine after her experiences Sunday and Monday. After being told Sunday that the application process would take at least an hour, Simmons sent her ride and children away so they could be warm. Minutes after they left, she was told by a Flint police officer she would have to come back several hours later. When she told the officer she didn't have a ride and asked to wait inside from the cold, he refused her request. "He said 'you have a problem then, don't you?' " Simmons said the officer told her. She and another woman had to wait outside in the cold for nearly an hour for rides. "He was so rude."

Lt. Alvern Lock said police were at the Hasselbring site to offer security and were not involved with the distribution of reimbursement checks.

An out-of-state crew of experts helping CSX relieved pressure in the burning rail car by blowing two holes in it early Saturday, allowing the liquid propane to pour into a large pit and burn.

CSX is investigating the cause of the initial tank car fire but the daylong blaze at the top of the car might have destroyed crucial evidence, Wollenhaupt said.

Wollenhaupt could not say how long the probe would take or what the fire and aftermath would cost CSX.

The company plans to pay the city for overtime expenses for all local agencies involved in the fire, he said.

City Administrator David H. Ready said the city is gathering records, but it is too early to determine its cost to respond to the fire.

The Genesee-Lapeer Chapter of the American Red Cross reported that 1,400 people from 464 families were booked into 500 rooms at 15 local hotels Friday.

Food donations were received from the 12th Street Church of God, Hutchinson's Market, McDonald's, Little Caesars, Domino's, Great Giant Super Market, Beecher Metro Water Department and Arby's. Pillows, blankets and tissue were donated by Savage Industries and Art Van collected new blankets from the community.

James L. Smith covers suburban police and crime issues. He can be reached at (810) 766-6322. Marlon Vaughn covers Flint city government, neighborhoods and social services. He can be reached at (810) 766-6324.

Link to story:


link to TB 2k story thread:


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), January 25, 2000

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