Tim Roske  /  AP
Freight train cars are strewn along railroad tracks in Oneida, N.Y., after an explosion on Monday.
updated 3/12/2007 5:36:22 PM ET 2007-03-12T21:36:22

A train carrying liquefied propane and other chemicals derailed Monday, touching off an explosion and fire that forced evacuations from this small, central New York state city.

Passenger rail service was halted as a precaution and a nearby highway was closed after the 7 a.m. blast.

A huge fireball shot into the dawn sky. Thick, black smoke poured out for several hours as five tanker cars burned out.

By late afternoon, all danger of explosions had passed, Fire Chief Don Hudson said.

He said 28 of the CSX Corp. train’s 80 cars derailed — about half loaded with propane. Two ignited fire, along with two tankers filled with liquid petroleum and a fifth car loaded with the solvent toluene, Hudson said.

No injuries were reported.

“I was standing in the driveway waiting for the bus when I saw this big ball of fire go into the sky. It must have shot up thousands of feet,” said Will Medler, 16. “First I thought ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ Then I realized something bad has happened.”

Medler said he didn’t hear anything because he was wearing headphones.

The derailment occurred on Oneida’s north side. Officials evacuated an area within a one-mile radius, covering most of downtown in the city of 10,000. Up to 4,000 people live within the evacuation area, but it was mandatory only for homes closest to the blast. Most residents were allowed to return by mid-afternoon.

A 23-mile stretch of the state Thruway, which passes within a mile of the explosion, was closed as a precaution, said Patrick Noonan, a spokesman for the Thruway Authority. Amtrak suspended service between Syracuse and Albany.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators headed to the scene Monday. Drug tests will be performed on the engineer and data from the locomotives’ data recorders will be analyzed, CSX spokesman Maurice O’Connell said.

The train was headed from Buffalo to Selkirk, just south of Albany, said CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan.

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