John Raby / AP

Oil train derails in West Virginia

At least 14 cars burst into flames, one enters a river, and two nearby towns have been evacuated, local media report

A CSX train hauling crude oil has derailed in West Virginia with at least 14 cars bursting into flames and two nearby towns evacuated in the second significant oil-train incident in three days, local media reported on Monday.

At least one of the tank cars has entered the Kanawha River, and one car ran into a house before bursting into flames, the Charleston Gazette newspaper reported, citing Lawrence Messina, communications director for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

Messina said local emergency responders were having trouble getting to the house that caught fire. He did not know if anyone was inside. 

The nearby towns of Adena Village and Boomer Bottom were being evacuated after the incident, which occurred at 1:30 p.m., local television news channel WOWK reported.

One person was being treated for potential inhalation issues, but no other injuries were reported, according to a news release from CSX, the train company

At 6 p.m., Gov. Earl Ray Tomlin issued a state of emergency for Kanawha and Fayette counties. His office said the tanker cars were loaded with Bakken crude from North Dakota and headed to Yorktown, Virginia. A safety alert issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (PDF) last year warned the public, emergency responders and shippers about the potential high volatility of crude from the Bakken oil patch.

It was not immediately clear where the train was heading or whose oil it was carrying. However, the crash occurred less than 200 miles west of Lynchburg, Virginia, where another CSX train bound for an East Coast oil terminal run by Plains All American Pipelines derailed and erupted in flames last April.

The state was under a winter storm warning and getting heavy snowfall at times, with as much as 5 inches in some places. It's not clear if the weather had anything to do with the crash.

Kanawha County Manager Jennifer Sayre told the Charleston Gazette that there was burning oil on the Kanawha River, and that county officials have told water company officials in Cedar Grove and Montgomery to shut down their water intakes. She told the Gazette that each tank car contained 33,000 gallons of crude oil.

Theresa White, the director of Fayette County Emergency Management, told the Gazette that the U.S. Coast Guard was on the scene with booms to contain the oil.

West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Jordan said the company shut down a water treatment plant, located about 3 miles away, at about 2:30 p.m. local time. The plant serves about 2,000 customers, or about 5,000 to 6,000 people.

State health officials said another water plant downstream in the town of Cedar Grove also closed its intake.

The fire continued burning along a hillside Monday evening, and small fires could be seen on the river. As of 9:30 p.m. local time, billowing flames could still be seen coming from several rail cars and something appeared to be burning on the partially frozen river.

Clean-up was expected to take several days, as the fires burn themselves out, said Joe Crist, Fayette County fire coordinator. About 200 residents were evacuated.

Crist said West Virginia American Water was testing to see if Kanawha River water had become contaminated.

David McClung said he felt the heat from one of the explosions at his home about a half mile up the hill.

His brother in law was outside at the time of the derailment and heard a loud crack below along the riverfront, then went inside to summon McClung, his wife and their son.

One of the explosions that followed sent a fireball at least 300 feet into the air, McClung said.

"We felt the heat, I can tell you that," McClung said. "It was a little scary."

The latest incident comes just two days after Canadian National Railways (CN) train from Alberta's oil sands derailed in a remote wooded area of northern Ontario. CN said 29 of 100 cars were involved, and seven caught fire. No injuries were reported, but the cars were still on fire Monday.

The U.S. Transportation Department is weighing tougher safety regulations for rail shipments of crude, which can ignite and result in huge fireballs.

Responding to a series of fiery train crashes, the government proposed rules in July that would phase out tens of thousands of older tank cars that carry increasing quantities of crude oil and other highly flammable liquids. It's not clear how old the tankers were on the derailed train.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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