Hundreds Evacuated as Train Burns After Collision in Ala.

January 20, 2006

Schools were open but about 500 residents were unable to return to their homes Jan. 19 after a train carrying sodium cyanide caught fire in a collision with another train near Lincoln, Ala.

Jerome Hand, a spokesman for the state environmental management agency, said no hazardous chemicals were detected in the air and that the fire mostly involved paper and automobile parts.

Authorities said the train rear-ended another that had pulled aside to let it pass about 4:30 p.m. near Lincoln in Talladega County. The ensuing fire sent flames and black smoke into the air that could be seen in Birmingham, about 40 miles west of Lincoln.

Three crew members were taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries that did not appear to be life-threatening. No other injuries were reported.

About 500 people within one mile of the accident were evacuated, and about 30 who were unable to flee were instructed to seal their homes and use portable air cleaners. The crash occurred about 20 miles west of Anniston, site of an Army chemical weapons incinerator, and many residents were previously provided with emergency gear and instructions to shelter in place.

Dana Uptain of the Talladega emergency management agency said Thursday the cleanup was still going on and the residents had not been allowed to return.

Many stayed with relatives or friends. Some went to shelters set up at a school, recreation center and church.

Susan Terpay, spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern, said it did not appear that the car carrying the chemical had been breached. Both trains were being operated by the Virginia-based railroad company and were en route to Atlanta, she said.

“The community here has been educated on how to SIP,” Talladega County EMA spokeswoman Shay Cook said. “There is a chemical stockpile in the area and they were trained for that purpose. This is something that citizens have and they have been educated on.”

Terpay said the first train was carrying automobiles and had pulled off into a siding along the main tracks to let the second train pass, but not all of the 81 cars of the first train cleared the tracks.

“The second train was behind it and was supposed to go on the main line because it needed to move more quickly,” Terpay said. “It appears that the first train did not clear the main line and when the second train came through, it struck the first train that was on the siding.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control Web site, sodium cyanide is not combustible but it forms flammable gas on contact with water or damp air and can give off irritating or toxic gases in a fire.

Effects of sodium cyanide inhalation include: headache, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat and unconsciousness.

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