Baltimore derailment, explosion collapses buildings
A CSX freight train crashed into a trash truck and derailed Tuesday in a Baltimore suburb and the explosion that followed rattled homes at least 800 metres away, sending a plume of smoke into the air that could be seen for miles, officials and witnesses said.
The train went off the tracks at about 2 p.m. ET in Rosedale, a Baltimore eastern suburb. Hazmat teams were on the scene, but Baltimore County Fire Chief John J. Hohman said at a news conference that no toxic inhalants were burning and officials did not order an evacuation. The truck driver was taken to the hospital in serious condition and two CSX workers aboard weren't hurt, fire officials said.
Dale Walston said he lives about 800 metres away from the blast site and that he thought he could smell chemicals.
"It shook my house pretty violently and knocked things off the shelves," he said in an email to The Associated Press.
The thick plume of black smoke drifted across the Baltimore city line and covered the eastern part of the city. The face of one warehouse near the train tracks blew off. CSX spokesman Gary Sease said in an email that sodium chlorate is on one of the trains, which the Department of Transportation classifies as a hazardous material.
However, Hohman said the chemical is not in one of the cars that was still burning into the evening. Earlier, fire officials had said building actually collapsed, but Hohman modified that later to say two warehouses were heavily damaged by the explosion and other buildings were damaged, but none collapsed. Overhead photos showed the front of one warehouse blown out.
An Amtrak spokeswoman said its Northeast Corridor service is not being affected.
More than one video posted to Facebook shows the fire, then minutes later, an explosion rattles the area. Hohman said firefighters had considered letting the the blazes burn out but later decided to hose them down. They had advised anyone within 20 blocks who can see the smoke to leave but said later people could stay.
Overhead photos showed at least a dozen train cars off the tracks including at least one tanker car. Sease said four of the cars believed derailed carried terephthalic acid, which is used in the production of plastics, among other things. He said it is not listed as a hazardous material.
One of the cars still burning was carrying terephthalic acid, and another was carrying fluoroacetic acid, Hohman said.
A worker at a nearby Dunkin' Donuts, Tawan Rai, reached by The Associated Press by phone, said he saw a fire and flames by the railroad tracks at first, then felt a thundering blast that sent smoke pouring into the sky.
"The whole building shook and there was just dust everywhere," said Rai, adding no windows broke but he was surprised by the intensity of the blast.
Windows blown out
John Kane, treasurer of Atlantic Tire on nearby Pulaski Highway, said the explosion blew out two large showcase windows and light fixtures in his shop. The highway, also called Route 40, is shut down to the Baltimore city line as well as some side streets in area.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to investigate.
The derailment is the third serious one this month. In Bridgeport, Conn., on May 17, more than 70 people were injured when a commuter train derailed. The eastbound train from New York City went off the tracks during evening rush hour, came to a stop and was struck about 20 seconds later by a westbound train.
In Rockview, Mo., on Saturday, a cargo train crash injured seven people and destroyed a highway overpass that could take a year to repair.
Some businesses closed immediately, fearful of the unidentified contents of a heavy plume of black smoke roiling into the atmosphere. At seafood supplier S. DiPaula & Sons Seafood Inc., a good-natured voice left a message on the answering machine afterward that the business was closing early for the day.
"Hello, this is S. DiPaula & Sons Seafood. Today is Tuesday and it's around 2:30 in the afternoon. We have decided to close due to a large explosion relatively close to our building and a heavy black plume of smoke that we can't tell what's in it."
In each of the past five years, CSX has reported more than 100 deaths in accidents and incidents involving the railroad.
The Federal Railroad Administration says CSX reported 104 deaths in 2012, down from 122 in 2011 and 117 in 2010. The railroad reported 102 deaths in 2009 and 122 in 2008.
The number of derailments on CSX's network in the eastern United States has been declining steadily since 2008 when it reported 229 derailments. Last year, CSX reported 143 derailments. CSX, based in Jacksonville, Fla., operates over 21,000 miles of track in 23 eastern states and two Canadian provinces.