Residents who were near the derailment of a crude oil train in Fayette County say it shook and rocked their community like a Biblical judgment.
Around 1:20 p.m. Monday, a CSX train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation derailed in the Mount Carbon area of Fayette County, sending oil tankers off the tracks, with some reaching the Kanawha River.
The train, consisting of two locomotives and 109 rail cars, was en route to Yorktown, Va. As of Monday evening, it was unknown how much oil spilled from the train.
According to a statement on its website, CSX is “working with first responders to address the fire, to determine how many rail cars derailed, and to deploy environmental protective measures and monitoring on land, air and in the nearby Kanawha River. The company also is working with public officials and investigative agencies to address their needs.”
The railroad also said one person was being treated for inhalation, but no other injuries have been reported.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for Kanawha and Fayette counties because of the event.
Some of that oil caught fire, sending fireballs and plumes of thick, black smoke into the air.
“I saw a plume, an inferno, a pillar, like something Biblical or wrath-of-God type stuff,” said Boomer resident Charles Keenan said. “I heard a big boom and a hiss, it was the fuel hissing, and then it went ‘boom,’ and I felt the heat. I was on Route 60, across the river, and I felt the heat and ran because I thought it was going to rain down.”
Keenan’s stepfather, Harry Carelli, 66, said he heard and felt “at least four” explosions from his home in Boomer Bottom, which is directly across from the derailment.
“We heard these two explosions and we always think about the Alloy plant,” Carelli said. “We didn’t dream it would be a railroad derailment. I saw all these people walking down our street to the dead end street at the bank, so I went and you could see the whole hillside over there was on fire.”
As of about 6 p.m. Monday, there was still an active fire at the scene of the wreck.
Eyewitnesses in the area reported feeling the heat from the burning train; Twitter user Devin Williams said his house shook because of the derailment.
“At least one, possibly more, rail cars have gone into the Kanawha River,” state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Lawrence Messina said. “A house fire occurred as a result of the derailment. We’re told that emergency responders are having a hard time reaching the house fire because of the derailment.”
A Fayette dispatcher said residents in Lower Boomer and Adena Village were evacuated. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said in a press release that the Montgomery and Cedar Grove water treatment plants were shut down, and customers served by those systems are urged to conserve water.
Messina said the state fire marshal and state Department of Environmental Protection were notified. Scanner traffic indicated traffic on state Route 61 was shut down at the Montgomery Bridge.
West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Jordan said the company’s Montgomery treatment plant serves around 2,000 customers in Montgomery and Handley.
Erica Mani, CEO of American Red Cross West Virginia region, said a shelter would be available at Valley High School for residents displaced by the train derailment. She said the shelter will provide individuals with food and a warm place to sleep.
An American Red Cross team attempted to drive to Valley High School on Tuesday but had to turn around because of snowy road conditions.
CSX has booked rooms at the Holiday Lodge Hotal and Comfort Inn New River, both in Oak Hill, for those displaced by the derailment. Residents can call the hotel to reserve a room free of charge.
CSX also set up a hotline for affected residents to call. That number is 877-835-5279.
Mani said emergency shelters not affiliated with the Red Cross have been set up at the Montgomery Fire Department, Falls View Community Center and Armstrong Creek Community Center.
The derailment occurred on the same CSX freight line as the April 30, 2014, crude oil train derailment in Lynchburg, Va. Thirteen cars derailed in the Lynchburg crash, three of which plunged into the James River. The Roanoke Times reported about 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota spilled. The train that derailed in Lynchburg was also traveling from North Dakota to Yorktown, Va.
The number of carloads of crude shipped on major US railroads skyrocketed from fewer than 10,000 in 2008 to 415,000 last year, according to the Association of American Railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration.
The largest concentration of tank cars is coming out of the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where there is limited capacity to move crude using pipelines, historically the industry’s transportation mode of choice.
Much of the oil is being hauled by a fleet of tens of thousands of flawed tank cars that are prone to rupture during derailments, according to The Associated Press. That can set off massive fires when the cars that carry more than 30,000 gallons of oil each break open and explode.
Exacerbating the potential hazard is the high volatility of oil from the Bakken — a sweet, light crude that regulators say contains higher concentrations of explosive gases than conventional heavy crudes.
The Daily Mail created the hashtag #WVderail for updates via Twitter.