Explosions, fireballs, and evacuations are just some of the fall-out from an Ohio train derailment that involved freight cars carrying ethanol. Flames were seen shooting high in the air and explosions were felt blocks away.
Officials say that the derailment, which led to an evacuation of an area neighborhood, could have been worse, wrote The Associated Press (AP). The derailment involved three tank cars, each moving 30,000 gallons of ethanol, on Norfolk Southern Corp. tracks; no one on board the train was harmed. The accident occurred at 2:00 a.m. Wednesday morning in an industrial area off of Interstate 71.
A 12-person team was sent to investigate the accident by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB); its complete investigation could take one year, but the Board expects to issue a preliminary report in about a month. Officials said the cause of the accident remains unknown and NTSB board member, Earl F. Weener, told the AP that, as of Wednesday night, tankers were still burning.
Although no one on board the tankers were injured, two people were hurt when a second explosion occurred as they walked the tracks to investigate the initial blast, said the AP. Officials said the two went to the hospitals with minor injuries.
“I’m grateful, in one respect as well, that this did not occur in a more populated area near more residents,” said Columbus Mayor Michael Colemen. “It very well could have. A mile up or a mile south. North or south, east or west. It could have been tragic in other ways as well,” he added, wrote the AP. “The time it occurred, where it occurred, were very good things for us,” said Assistant Chief David Whiting of the Columbus, Ohio fire division. “Because we didn’t have a whole lot of people around, businesses were closed, we were able to take care of getting our firefighters back and evacuating a small number of people,” wrote the AP.
The derailment involved a southbound Norfolk Southern train with two locomotives and 98 freight cars of mixed freight, including ethanol, styrene, corn syrup, and grain, said NBC4.com
About 100 people were evacuated from their homes and two cars carrying wheat and corn syrup were breached, said the AP, and leaking their contents, said officials. Crews were using sand and working to recover cargo.
Railroad tankers filled with poisonous gasses such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia move across state lines and through the downtown Columbus, Ohio area, under its convention center and through its Arena District, NBC4 explained. According to experts, a leak of these types of chemicals in the downtown metropolitan area would put thousands of lives in jeopardy in just minutes.
According to NBC4, based on its review of Norfolk Southern’s safety record for the past two years, the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) records indicate that Norfolk Southern was involved in eight train derailments in Ohio between January and April of this year and 20 in Ohio in 2011. The FRA indicates that Ohio ranks fifth nationally for railroad accidents based statistics from the first of this year until April 2012, but notes that the number should be considered in context; some states could have more or less miles of track than others.