(CN) – A CSX train hauling millions of gallons of oil continued to burn in Fayette County, West Va., Tuesday, a day after it derailed in a snowstorm, dumping crude into a river and forcing the evacuation of about 1,000 residents of nearby communities.
The train, consisting of 109 tank cars and two locomotives, derailed at about 1:20 P.m. Monday near the small towns of Boomer and Adena in the southern part of the state.
The railroad said about 25 tanks cars left the tracks; the West Virginia Dept. of Military Affairs and Public Safety put the number at 25. Of those, about 20 were involved in the explosions that shot fireballs 100 yards into the air. None of the cars is currently believed to have entered the Kanawha River.
The train, carrying highly flammable Bakken crude oil, was travelling from North Dakota to Virginia, according to the Associated Press. It is still unclear what caused the derailment. Officials say that the heat from the fires at the derailment site was so intense Monday night that crews have not yet been able to a detailed investigation.
On Tuesday some local officials are questioning whether the severe winter weather that has been shaking the region is to blame.
Eyewitness Randy Fitzwater, a resident of Boomer, told the local Metro News that the first indication something was amiss was a sudden loud noise.
“It sounded like a jet airplane flew over my house and then I heard an explosion. I looked across the river and I could see this big ball of flame,” Fitzwater said.
Another local resident told the Metro News that “flames were going at least 300 feet into the air …” and that thick, black smoke was “everywhere.”
She reportedly heard many explosions which “shook my whole house. I could feel the heat through my door.”
“The biggest explosion happened around midnight”, Montgomery volunteer firefighter John McGinnis said on Tuesday.
Local news organizations reported that at least one home was completely destroyed, but police have as yet had no reports of fatalities, although one individual is being treated for smoke inhalation.
The derailment caused crude oil to leak from the tank cars and into the Kanawha River, a source of drinking water for thousands of people. Parts of the river even caught fire amid the explosions, reported Fox 8 in Cleveland.
CSX has announced that crews were working to contain oil spilled into Armstrong Creek, which runs parallel to the CSX tracks. A CSX statement explained that the company is working with local responders and local officials in order to “deploy environmental protective measures and monitoring measures on land, air, and in the nearby Kanawha River,” and to determine the extent of the environmental damage.
The railroad is also working with the Red Cross to provide shelter for many of the evacuees.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has declared a State of Emergency in Kanawha and Fayette Counties and West Virginia American Water is expected to issue a boil water order, although initial crude oil tests on the water have been negative, according to WCHS in Charleston.
A temporary water distribution site has been set up at the Montgomery Town Hall to meet the needs of the more than 2,000 people currently without safe drinking water.
The New York Times reported that such accidents have become more common due to the dramatic increase in Bakken oil train shipments. Before 2009, fewer than 10,000 oil tanker cars were transported by train each year, but that number jumped to more than 230,000 in 2012 and 430,000 in 2013.
U.S. regulators announced just last month that Bakken crude oil, produced from the Bakken shale, in regions such as North Dakota and Montana, is more flammable and more dangerous to ship by train than other forms of crude oil, according to Metro News.
A four-month study being conducted by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration could force more rigid labeling of contents and require petroleum to be shipped in newer, stronger rail cars, in order to prevent this kind of catastrophe from happening in the future.
This is reportedly the second crash involving a CSX oil train in the past 10 months.
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