WV GAZETTE: Day after derailment, cleanup and restoration begin

Repost from WV  Gazette, Charleston, WV

Day after derailment, cleanup and restoration begin

By Rusty Marks, Staff writer, Tuesday, February 17, 2015

MOUNT CARBON — Cleanup crews began removing the hulks of derailed and burned-out railroad tank cars Tuesday evening, and residents began to get water and electricity back, after a train carrying crude oil derailed, caught fire and exploded in western Fayette County on Monday.

Emergency shelters, set up after hundreds of residents were evacuated from the area, were closed Tuesday evening after CSX, the company whose train derailed, provided hotel rooms for them.

The CSX train, hauling 107 tank car loads of Bakken Shale crude oil from North Dakota to a transportation terminal in Yorktown, Virginia, derailed in Adena Village near Mount Carbon and Deepwater about 1:30 p.m. Monday, setting one house ablaze and causing numerous tank cars to burn and explode. The train also included two cars of sand, which were used as buffers at either end of the train, CSX officials said.

At a briefing Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said officials expected hundreds of residents without electricity to have service restored sometime Tuesday evening.

State officials said fewer than 800 people were affected by outages related to lines damaged by the initial fire. They also said they believed between 100 and 125 residents were evacuated or displaced, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency put that number at 2,400 in its daily report.

Local officials said about 100 people took refuge at emergency shelters Monday night at Valley High School in Smithers and the Armstrong Volunteer Fire Department.

Most people who had been staying at the shelters moved out once CSX offered hotel rooms, and others decided to stay with friends or relatives following the fire.

Billy Dunfee was the last to leave the shelter at Valley High School, having spent the night Monday. “They set us up on cots in the back gyms,” he said.

But the school didn’t have water Monday night, so Dunfee decided Tuesday morning to either stay with relatives or take CSX up on it’s offer for a hotel room. Dunfee wasn’t sure how long it would be before he would be allowed to return to his home.

Smithers police and volunteer firefighters from the area set up a makeshift water distribution center at Valley High School late Monday, and handed out water throughout the day Tuesday.

Smithers Police Chief Gerald Procter said the owner of J&J Trucking in nearby Canvas had a tractor-trailer filled with pallets of water, and took it upon himself to bring the truck to Smithers.

Volunteers had passed out water to about 60 cars by noon, with some drivers picking up water for friends and family members.

“I already came out and picked up water for six households before,” said Cannelton resident Jay Pauley. “I’m getting water for five more. There’s about 20 houses in the section where I live.”

CSX spokesman Gary Sease said the railroad was working with the Red Cross and other relief organizations to help those who had to leave their homes because of the train derailment.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s acting administrator, former Charleston resident Sarah Feinberg, and chief safety officer, Robert Lauby, were among several investigators from the FRA and the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration who were on the scene Tuesday.

“Once the site is secured, officials will begin the investigation into the cause of the derailment,” U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling said Tuesday morning.

Officials at the West Virginia American Water treatment plant in Montgomery, downriver on the Kanawha-Fayette county line, were told to shut down their water intake as a precaution. The intakes were reopened Tuesday afternoon, after three rounds of testing by the company, with the help of the West Virginia National Guard, showed “non-detectable levels” of the components of crude oil in the Kanawha River.

The approximately 2,000 customers of West Virginia American Water’s Montgomery system — including people in Montgomery, Smithers, Cannelton, London, Handley and Hughes Creek — were told to boil their water before using it. Bottled water stations were being set up at the Montgomery Town Hall and at Valley High School.

Kelley Gillenwater, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that the fires were keeping DEP officials from being able to fully examine the site of the derailment to determine what sort of containment and cleanup is going to be needed.

Full details of water sampling being done by the state were not immediately available, but Gillenwater said that so far the results had come back “non-detect.” She said that despite initial reports, none of the train cars that derailed actually ended up in the Kanawha River.

Tomblin declared a state of emergency in Fayette and Kanawha counties after the derailment. “It appears things are starting to come back to normal,” the governor said at Tuesday’s news conference.

Randy Cheetham, a regional vice-president with CSX, said at the same press conference that the section of track where the derailment occurred had last been inspected on Friday. He said CSX and transportation officials have not yet determined the cause of the wreck.

Cheetham said the derailment started with the third car behind two locomotives pulling the train, and continued to the 28th car. Work crews were able to pull most of the cars away from the site of the fire.

An engineer and conductor on the train were not hurt, Cheetham said. He said the tank cars set fire to one home at the site, and the homeowner was treated for smoke inhalation — the only injury reported related to the derailment.

The West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Montgomery canceled classes for the rest of the week. In a statement, WVU Tech officials said water service on campus isn’t expected to be restored for another two or three days, and the school’s residence halls would close at 5 p.m. Tuesday. WVU Tech students will be temporarily housed at the University of Charleston’s residence halls at the former Mountain State University in Beckley, and at the Marriott Courtyard hotel in Beckley if necessary.

In April 2014, a train carrying crude oil on the same North Dakota-Virginia route derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia — one of several incidents involving oil-carrying rail cars in recent months that have brought increased scrutiny to the transport of oil via rail.

In October, officials with the state Department of Homeland Security blacked out details about the frequency of CSX oil train shipments, the amounts of oil transported and the routes the trains took through West Virginia from a Charleston Gazette Freedom of Information Act request for data on Bakken crude oil shipments through the state, citing security concerns and saying some of the information was proprietary to CSX.

Asked Tuesday whether the state would reconsider that stance in light of Monday’s derailment, Tomblin said there were probably still security concerns over releasing the information. However, he said state officials would take another look at the question.

Amtrak’s thrice-weekly Cardinal service, which runs through Fayette County on its way between Chicago and New York City, listed today’s run as canceled on the Amtrak website. Friday’s run is listed as “sold out,” which the service often does to block ticket sales on annulled runs. Tickets are being sold online for Sunday’s run.

Staff writers Ken Ward Jr., Erin Beck and Phil Kabler contributed to this report.