Eunice, La Derailed Train Explodesgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Saturday May 27 10:00 PM ET
Derailed Train Explodes in Southwest Louisiana
EUNICE, La. (Reuters) - Ten Union Pacific (NYSE:UNP - news) Railroad freight cars carrying hazardous chemicals exploded and caught fire Saturday after more than two dozen cars derailed, sending flames and toxic smoke billowing hundreds of feet in the air and forcing thousands to evacuate, officials reported.
By 7 p.m. (CDT), mandatory evacuations of homes and businesses on the west side of town were expanded from a mile radius to a 2.5-mile radius of the burning train, affecting more than 3,500 people in the southwest Louisiana town of 12,000, State Police spokesman E.J. Chesney told Reuters.
No injuries have been reported.
``This situation is very, very serious,'' he said. ``This is a major derailment of 25 to 30 cars from the 113-car train and it's been burning since just before noon. Some pressurized tankers are adjacent to others that are burning. It's not going to be over anytime soon.''
The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a team of experts to investigate the derailment. In Washington, NTSB spokesman Phil Frame said the team of railroad safety investigators and a hazardous material expert will begin arriving in Eunice late Saturday or early Sunday.
He said the team will be gathering information to determine the initial cause of the derailment and what caused the fire. Its members also will look into railroad operations to determine whether train handling or excessive speed played roles in the accident.
One of the tank cars erupted in a fireball that rose almost 200 feet in the air more than two hours after the accident, State Trooper Richard Hazelwood said.
Woods and brush adjacent to the railroad tracks also were on fire Saturday evening, Chesney said, adding that an ongoing drought has left the area vulnerable to fire.
Some of the chemicals involved in the derailment include methyl chloride, acrylic acid and dichloropropane, he said, identifying the compounds as flammable and hazardous to humans when smoke or fumes contact the skin or are inhaled.
Some chemicals may have leaked into a nearby pond, Chesney said.
``Everything is still in the evaluation stage,'' he said. ''We have the manifest for the train, but we don't know what's leaked and what's burned or may burn later.
``There are pros and cons to letting the fire burn itself out and to going in to put it out. Right now we don't know what's going to happen.''
The American Red Cross and Union Pacific officials were lining up temporary housing and hotel rooms for the evacuees, he said. Some emergency shelters also opened.
Earlier this month, several hundred residents of New Iberia, also in southwest Louisiana, were evacuated from their homes for several days after 10 cars derailed from a Burlington-Northern-Santa Fe Railroad train. One car carrying a flammable chemical overturned but did not catch fire.
-- Rachel Gibson (email@example.com), May 28, 2000
Sunday May 28 11:44 PM ET
Derailed Train Still Threatens Louisiana Town
EUNICE, La. (Reuters) - Small fires were burning on Sunday night amid a tangled pile of chemical-laden tank cars that exploded in flames after a freight train derailed on Saturday, but one overturned tanker of flammable acid still threatened the area, Louisiana authorities said.
``This is still a dangerous situation,'' Louisiana State Police spokesman E.J. Chesney said on Sunday night. ``The tank car of acrylic acid is overturned, upside down, and has small fires all around it. If mishandled, it could still explode, so nobody gets to go home yet.''
State police estimated on Saturday that 3,500 people were forced to evacuate, but that number was reduced to 2,500 on Sunday, State Police Sgt. Chris Guillory said.
There were no injuries, Trooper Paul Vankerkhove said.
The explosions began shortly before noon (1700 GMT) on Saturday when 30 freight cars derailed from a 113-car Union Pacific (NYSE:UNP - news) train on the outskirts of Eunice, a town of 12,000, in southwest Louisiana.
Initial reports indicated 10 of the cars carrying potentially hazardous chemicals were burning. By late on Sunday, Chesney said hazardous materials specialists in full protective gear surveyed the site on foot. Specialists said seven cars burned, five of which ruptured. Two more were overturned in a bayou but did not appear to be leaking.
``That was the first real look, and the focal point that we have to deal with first is the acrylic acid,'' he said, adding that plans were being developed to offload the chemical.
Vankerkhove said the freight train carried 12 hazardous chemicals, four that were highly flammable. Among the chemicals identified on Saturday as being involved in the derailment were dichloropropane, acrylic acid and methyl chloride.
``No one is trying to extinguish the fire because some chemicals that react violently to foam are right next to some that react violently to water,'' he said.
About seven hours after the accident, mandatory evacuations of homes and businesses on the west side of town were expanded from a one-mile (1.6-km) radius to a 2.5-mile (4-km) radius of the burning train.
As fears of toxic smoke increased with each explosion, residents were ordered to leave immediately and many fled without needed medications or even a change of clothes. Many also had to leave pets behind.
Authorities were working on Sunday to develop plans for animal control officers to go into the evacuated area on Monday to provide food and water to the animals. Chesney said a few people on the edges of the evacuated area were escorted back late on Sunday to retrieve pets.
The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a team to investigate the derailment.
In Washington, NTSB spokesman Phil Frame said the team of railroad safety investigators and a hazardous material expert would gather information to try to determine the cause of the derailment and fire.
-- Rachel Gibson (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 29, 2000.
Carcinogens in homes near derailment 10/23/2000
EUNICE, La. B Cancer-causing agents have been found in dust samples from homes near the site where a train derailed in May and caused a hazardous waste spill.
But a Union Pacific Railroad Co. spokesman said there is no clear connection between the discovery and the May 27 derailment.
Thirty cars of the Union Pacific train derailed outside Eunice. Several tank cars carrying chemicals exploded and burned, sending residents scrambling for safety. As many as 3,000 people were forced from homes and businesses.
Union Pacific hired a Baton Rouge environmental company to test soil and dust samples from Eunice homes after the derailment. They also collected samples in nearby Crowley to serve as a control or comparison.
New Iberia chemist Wilma Subra reviewed Union Pacific's reported results from three Eunice homes and one Crowley control house and found harmful chemicals present in the Eunice dust samples.
In many cases, the amount of chemicals present far exceeded the amount found in the Crowley control sample.
"Sometimes it's 10 to 20 times over the control, and these are known human cancer-causing agents in the dust that people are breathing," Ms. Subra said.
The largest amounts of toxic chemicals were found in dust samples; Eunice soil samples seemed relatively clean, Ms. Subra said.
Three types of chemicals were found at high levels in the Eunice dust samples: PAHs, PCBs and dioxins.
PAHs and PCBs are known or suspected of causing cancer and dioxins can cause a variety of health problems at very low levels, she said.
Ms. Subra said the chemicals are not an immediate threat, but may pose a long-term health concern if the dust settled in attics and is redistributed inside houses.
"Because dust is so readily inhaled and absorbed, it's a real problem," Ms. Subra said.
She suggested new samples and tests to determine whether the chemicals are still present months following the derailment.
Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said PAHs can be found in smoke from cigarettes, barbecue grills and new asphalt.
Mr. Davis said initial results show no link between the presence of chemicals in Eunice homes and the derailment. He said tests are being conducted to validate the first round of testing.
"Our toxicologist says especially elevated PAHs come from many, many sources," Mr. Davis said.
-- Doris (email@example.com), October 23, 2000.