LATEST DERAILMENT: Chemical train on fire near Knoxville Tennessee

Repost from the Knoxville News Sentinel[Editor:  Following the lead story are a number of timely updates.   Additional coverage: CNN: Thousands evacuated…, Huffington Post: Train Carrying Toxic Substance…  LATEST UPDATE AS OF MIDDAY 7/3, Roanoke.com: “Officials lift evacuation after Tennessee train derailment.“- RS]

Firefighters letting flames burn toxic chemical after Blount County train derailment

News Sentinel staff, Jul 2, 2015 5:54 AM, updated later…
A CSX train burns on Thursday, July 2, 2015, after it derailed near Old Mount Tabor Road in Blount County overnight. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)
UPDATE: Firefighters letting flames burn toxic chemicals

Firefighters haven’t tried to douse flames burning a derailed train car containing a toxic substance that already has sent 10 law enforcement officers to a hospital.

“I think they’re just letting it burn itself out because they don’t want to get too close to it,” Blount County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Marian O’Briant said Thursday morning.

“It’s very toxic.”

The flammable chemical is Acrylonitrile, a substance used in manufacturing plastics. The chemical is considered carcinogenic. Exposure can burn the skin, inflame the lining of the lungs and nose and cause headaches, nausea and dizziness.

O’Briant said five officers with the Sheriff’s Office and five from the Alcoa Police Department were exposed to the substance during efforts to evacuate 5,000 people from a 2-mile radius from the derailment.

“Going door to door, they just breathed in some of the fumes,” she said.

The Sheriff’s Office called in extra officers to deal with the situation, O’Briant said.

“Just about every emergency agency in Blount County is involved,” she said.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency also has joined the effort.

Authorities have closed a section of U.S. Highway 321 between the bypass to West Blount Drive, O’Briant said. She was unsure if a detour route had been established.

Residents who use wells from south of Robert C. Jackson Drive off US. 321 to Friendsville should not drink the water, she said.

“They recommend you don’t drink the well water until further notice,” O’Briant said. “It’s just a precaution for now.”

Officers initially established a shelter for displaced residents at the Foothills Mall, but later moved people to Heritage High School. The American Red Cross chapter is staffing the high school to help those evacuated.

“Streaming in and out it’s about 100 people,” O’Briant said of the number of people at the high school.

“There’s fewer people now than there was earlier because they’re calling friends and relatives and finding places to stay,” she said.

Dayanny Hernandez, 18, and the rest of her extended family headed to the emergency room shortly after 10 a.m.

Hernandez and her mother complained of a headache, stomach pains and sore throat hours after a train carrying poisonous liquids derailed in Blount County.

“It’s hard to explain,” Hernandez said of the feeling in her throat and stomach.

Ana Castro, a family member who is 14 weeks pregnant and lives nearby, said she too wanted to get checked out. She woke at 3 this morning when a tired-looking firefighter banged on apartment door.

Clutching her 1-year-old daughter, she stood and ate breakfast with her extended family at Heritage High School before leaving for the hospital. CSX has said they would reimburse the family for the doctor’s visit.

Sandra Kelley left her yorkie and maltipoo at home this morning when authorities knocked on her door at 1 a.m., telling her to evacuate.

“I feel so bad because I only thought we would be gone for a couple of hours,” Kelley said.

One dog is in a cage; the other in the bathroom. Neither has food or water and authorities have since said it could be 48 hours before residents are allowed back into their homes.

A Red Cross assured Kelley the dogs would be OK. But O’Briant said it’s been a common problem.

A number of people have asked about returning home to get their dogs, but authorities will not let anyone through, she said.

Authorities said the evacuation could remain in force for 24-48 hours.

The Blount Partnership said in a statement that it is working with the businesses and residents affected by the train derailment.

“We will assist all businesses and individuals affected by this accident any way we can to get them operating as soon as possible,” said Bryan Daniels, Blount Partnership president/CEO.

Displaced residents with pets are being told to take the critters to the Blount County Animal Shelter on Curry Avenue, O’Briant said. Pets are not allowed at the high school shelter.

— Don Jacobs and Megan Boehnke

UPDATE: Pellissippi campus used as command center

It’s highly unlikely that anyone was on campus in the hours after a train derailed and displaced residents near the Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Community College.

Anthony Wise, the community college’s president, closed the campus about 6 this morning, and emergency workers are using the campus as a command center, said Julia Wood, a Pellissippi spokeswoman.

Wood said it was highly unlikely anyone was on campus before 6 a.m. since it was so early and the roads to the campus would have been blocked by emergency workers.

There are 145 students registered for summer classes on the Blount County campus, and there are 20 faculty and staff who work there as well.

But Wood said only those with classes today would have been on campus.

The campus was already scheduled to be closed Friday for Independence Day.

— MJ Slaby
UPDATE: Federal investigators on the scene

A statement from the Federal Railroad Administration said the agency had investigators and hazmat inspectors at the scene of a train derailment in Blount County.

“Once it is safe, FRA will begin a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the derailment,” the statement said.

— The Associated Press

UPDATE: Emergency workers decontaminated

Authorities have decontaminated 10 emergency workers exposed Thursday to a toxic substance released during a train derailment and the resulting fire, and another dozen first responders are expected to undergo the cleansing operation.

Blount Memorial Hospital spokesman Josh West said three of the first responders had been decontaminated by 4:15 a.m. in a special tent set up behind the hospital. The other seven first responders had been cleansed as of 7 a.m.

“We expect 12 more at this time, but they haven’t come through yet,” West said.

He identified the toxic substance as acrylonitrile, a colorless liquid used in the manufacture of plastics. Exposure can burn the skin, cause nausea, headaches and dizziness, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. At least one death has been recorded from inhalation of the substance.

West said after being scrubbed down, the workers underwent oxygen breathing treatments to “sort of flush the lungs to make sure there’s no problem.” West was unsure for which agencies the first responders worked. None of the treated workers have been released from the hospital. West was unsure how long the workers will be kept at the facility.

“That’s kind of fluid,” he said. “We’re holding them for observation.”

West said no residents were treated for exposure to the substance. The hospital was assisting two residents who were evacuated so quickly they were unable to get all their medical supplies and medications together.

— Don Jacobs

UPDATE: Statement from CSX

CSX is working with first responders and relief agencies in Maryville following the derailment of a tank car that is on fire. CSX personnel are on hand at an Outreach Center that has been established at Heritage High School. Displaced residents are being offered assistance, including lodging.

Around midnight, a train en route from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Waycross, Ga., derailed the single tank car loaded with acrylonitrile, a hazardous material used in a variety of industrial processes including the manufacture of plastics. The substance is flammable and presents an inhalation risk. First responders have ordered an evacuation of residences and businesses in a two-mile radius.

The train consists of two locomotives and 57 cars, including 45 loaded cars and 12 empty cars. Cars of acrylonitrile are located on either side of the burning rail car. No crude oil is among the rail cars. A total of 27 cars in the train are carrying hazardous materials.

UPDATE: Second Harvest food deliveries delayed

Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee will not be able to make deliveries Thursday due to the derailment.

The food bank’s 80,000-square-foot warehouse off Middlesettlements Road is in the evacuation area, according to executive director Elaine Streno.

Closings due to train derailment

Pellissippi State’s Blount County campus
Second Harvest Food Bank warehouse (no food delivery of pickups today)
Denso Manufacturing plant
The food bank’s six programs provide 1.1 million meals a month in an 18-county area.

It will resume deliveries when the area is no longer sealed off.

— News Sentinel staff

ORIGINAL REPORT: Train derailment forces 5,000 from their homes

A CSX train carrying a “highly flammable and toxic” gas derailed in Blount County on Wednesday night, forcing the evacuation of 5,000 people from their homes.

The derailment was reported about 11:50 p.m. Wednesday at the crossing at Old Mount Tabor Road, according to an emergency dispatcher. Flames erupted from the scene.

The Blount County Fire Department and the Maryville Fire Department responded.

Authorities have not released details about the number of train cars involved in the crash or the specific substances involved.

Officers with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office have been evacuating a two-mile radius around the derailment. Displaced residents without another place to go were initially housed at the Foothills Mall. Later the American Red Cross established a shelter at Heritage High School. All those in need of a place to stay are being directed to the high school, authorities said.

The Blount County Sheriff’s Office posted on its Facebook page Thursday morning that the evacuation could last 24 to 48 hours.

Authorities have established a command center at Pellissippi State Community College off U.S. Highway 321.

More details as they develop online and in Friday’s News Sentinel.

— Don Jacobs
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