A train carrying crude oil derailed in Fayette County on Monday afternoon, sending at least one car into the water where a tributary meets the Kanawha River, setting a house on fire, leading to the evacuation of nearby residents and prompting the governor to declare a State of Emergency for Fayette and Kanawha counties.
Twenty-five cars of the 109-car CSX train derailed in the community of Adena Village near Mount Carbon and Deepwater, according to Theresa White, director of Fayette County Emergency Management. At least one tank car ended up in the water, and another car slammed into a house and burst into flames, said Lawrence Messina, communications director for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
The train was carrying oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to a refinery in Yorktown, Virginia, according to Chris Stadelman, spokesman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office.
Last year, a train taking the same route derailed, causing an explosion in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The incident happened at about 1:30 p.m. Fire destroyed the house affected by the accident, according to the West Virginia State Police. No one was reported killed, but CSX reported that one person was treated for an inhalation injury.
Kanawha County Manager Jennifer Sayre said at least 14 tank cars were reported to be burning following the derailment, and some cars exploded. There was burning oil on the water, and a section of W.Va. Route 61 was burning, Sayre said from the Kanawha County emergency operations center.
The state Department of Environmental Protection was told the train was carrying “crude oil and possibly other materials,” said DEP spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater.
White said Monday evening that the U.S. Coast Guard was on scene with booms to contain the oil. She wasn’t sure how many cars were in the water, but knew that some were leaking. She said the DEP was also on site.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a State of Emergency for Kanawha and Fayette counties at about 6 p.m. on Monday.
“Declaring a State of Emergency ensures that residents of both Kanawha and Fayette counties have the access they need to resources necessary to handle all stages of the emergency,” Tomblin said in a news release. “State officials are on site and will continue to work with local and federal officials, as well as CSX representatives, throughout the incident.” Messina said that Kanawha County was included in the State of Emergency because some customers asked to conserve water were from Kanawha County.
CSX officials made a statement on Twitter before later sending a release.
“A CSX train derailed in Mount Carbon, WV,” the company tweeted. “We are working with first responders on the scene to ensure the safety of the community.”
Later, CSX issued a statement to say that the company was working with the Red Cross and other relief organizations “to address residents’ needs, taking into account winter storm conditions.”
State Police asked that residents within a half-mile of the scene, along W.Va. 61 near Armstrong Creek Road or Powelltown Hollow, evacuate until further notice.
A shelter was set up at Valley High School in Smithers. People were also being temporarily housed at the Armstrong Creek Volunteer Fire Department until another shelter could be set up at the Kimberly Community Center.
About 800 houses were still without power in Fayette County Monday evening, after about 900 houses were without power shortly after the train derailed. A Fayette County dispatcher said that fire burned the wires.
Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye said late Monday afternoon that workers were having difficulty getting to the site to assess the problem.
Water intakes for the communities of Montgomery and Cedar Grove were turned off because some of the oil got into the water, according to a release from the state Department of Health and Human Resources. While the intakes are off, customers are asked to conserve water, according to the release.
West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Jordan said the derailment had caused the water treatment plant at Montgomery to be shut down and that the company expected approximately 2,000 customers, equaling 5,000 to 6,000 people, in the area to lose water.
She said the company was awaiting confirmation from DEP and emergency responders as to whether or not crude oil migrated into the Kanawha River from Armstrong Creek, a tributary of the river. Earlier reports suggested that the oil had reached the Kanawha River, but Jordan said Monday evening that emergency responders now believe the area affected may have been contained to Armstrong Creek.
“If there is clear confirmation from responders that crude oil and other potential contaminants resulting from the accident did not reach the Kanawha River, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health has given us permission to restart the Montgomery plant,” a statement read.
The Montgomery water treatment site provides water service to the communities of Montgomery, Smithers, Cannelton, London, Handley and Hughes Creek. It draws water from the Kanawha River a few miles downstream from the incident, the release says.
The company is “sourcing local bottled water supplies as well as working to secure larger supplies of water,” according to the release. Distribution sites will be announced via Facebook, the company’s website and to local media.
Sayre said each tank car contained 33,000 gallons of crude oil. Crews from the West Virginia Air National Guard were helping battle the blaze.
Todd Wagner has lived in Boomer Bottom for 23 years, but said he’s never had an afternoon quite like Monday.
“We just heard a big bang,” Wagner said. “Sometimes that happens because we’re near the Alloy plant.”
So Wagner took to social media to see if his neighbors heard or knew anything about what happened.
His wife and their 10-month old daughter evacuated their home up into Boomer Hollow.
“We’ve been in a rush,” Wagner said. “We had to grab a few things quickly.”
He said he’s more concerned about the lingering fumes and possible close friends and family who may be affected more by the events than the family’s home.
Eric Oden was in his basement when his sister told him about a loud explosion. Oden went outside to see what was going on, he said.
“It was crazy,” Oden said of the fiery scene.
Oden then went around to his friends’ homes urging them to get out of Boomer Bottom.
“[The smoke and flames] spread from where it exploded,” Oden said, noting that he felt the heat from the explosions.
“I started to sweat,” he said.
He went to Valley High School to seek shelter until he could safely return home.
Ruthie Willis Collins lives about a mile away from the train tracks. She was at a church in Boomer recording a video of the burning crude oil cars when another one exploded, sending a surge of flames into the sky.
In a video she posted to Facebook, Collins says, “Wow!” after the additional explosion. “I couldn’t believe it blew up while I was videoing,” she wrote on Facebook.
Kanawha County officials were working with water company officials and the state to get temporary water supplies to those affected by the accident. Kanawha County officials were also setting up shelters in the far eastern part of Kanawha County.
Kanawha County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Art Rubin said that health-department permitted facilities in the Montgomery and Cedar Grove areas were being contacted by health inspectors and could only operate on a conditional basis. He said health inspectors would be contacting the businesses to ensure they had sufficient water and are taking steps to protect the public.
Increased oil shipments by train have become a national controversy, as has whether the shipment information — required by the Obama administration to be filed with state emergency response agencies — should be made available to citizens. Last October, the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management refused to release details of oil shipments by rail through West Virginia, including the routes the trains take, the amount of oil shipped and the frequency of the shipments.
In April 2014, a train on the North Dakota-Virginia route derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia,
On Saturday, at least seven rail cars caught fire in northern Ontario after a crude oil train on its way from Alberta to eastern Canada derailed, according to media reports.
Staff writers Caitlin Cook, Ken Ward Jr. and Erin Beck contributed to this report.
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1215 or follow @rusty_marks on Twitter.