Kentucky residents urged to evacuate after more than a dozen train cars derailed Wednesday
Kentucky residents evacuated after more than a dozen freight train cars derailed and spewed molten sulfur can now return home safely as the fire is extinguished and winds are monitored, train operator CSX said Thursday.
At least 16 cars were involved in the Thanksgiving Eve train derailment north of Livingston, CSX said, adding that “two molten sulfur cars broke open and caught fire, losing some of their contents.” said in the statement Wednesday. Livingston is a small town about 60 miles south of Lexington. Officials advised residents to evacuate.
“Special equipment has been deployed to conduct aerial surveillance of the area and local officials are making sure it is safe for residents to return to their homes,” CSX said. At the scene, attention is focused on removing derailed cars and recovering items on the ground.
“The cause of the accident is under investigation,” the railway company said in a statement. “CSX is still providing food, shelter and other necessities to affected community members.”
When molten sulfur burns, it releases sulfur dioxide, CSX said. Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas with a strong odor. Depending on the level of exposure, it can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat – while exposure to its liquid form can cause frostbite, According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier Thursday, Kentucky Emergency Management spokesman Jordan Uodis told CNN the fire was 50% contained, but evacuated residents were not allowed to return home.
“Due to the train derailment, many families in Livingston … will be displaced for Thanksgiving. Please think of them and pray for a resolution that will allow them to return home,” said Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. Facebook Thursday morning.
The Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring sulfur dioxide levels in the district, EPA on-site coordinator Matthew Huiser told reporters Thursday. Levels in the immediate area spiked after the train derailment, but those levels have subsided as the fire is extinguished, he said.
EPAs Website Short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult, especially for children and people with asthma.
Huyser did not provide the sulfur dioxide levels measured overnight, but said the goal is to reach zero levels. “Firefighting efforts appear to be successful in reducing and completely eliminating quantifiable hazards,” he said.
CSX said it will provide food, shelter and Thanksgiving dinner to displaced families.
Linda Todd said she evacuated her Livingston home Wednesday after being alerted to safety concerns.
“I was freaking out because I was like, ‘We’re cooking and we’ve got turkeys in the oven. We can’t leave.’ They said, ‘You have to go, it’s a bad situation. You have to go,”’ Todd said CNN affiliate WYMT.
Beshear declared a state of emergency in response to the derailment, and his office said the state’s emergency operations center had been activated.
“By declaring a state of emergency, we are making sure every state resource is available to help keep our families safe,” Beshear said.
CSX reported the derailment shortly before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Rockies County Sheriff said the train derailed between Mullins Station and Livingston. CNN affiliate WKYT. One member of the two-person crew was treated at the scene for minor injuries, the train company said.
Two other derailed cars contained magnesium hydroxide, but there were no signs of a breach, CSX said Thursday. Other affected cars were carrying hazardous materials or were empty.
The crash led authorities to close US 25 in both directions from the Laurel County line to Galloway Branch Road, and it is unclear when it will reopen, the Kentucky Department of Transportation for District 8 said in a statement. Social media post Wednesday evening.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the agency represented by Jordan Yoodis. She is the public information officer for Kentucky Emergency Management.