Seven empty train cars and a tanker containing a flammable gas derailed Saturday in a switchyard, exploding in a ball of fire that killed one person and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes.
A plume of smoke covered the south end of the city, and at least seven people went to hospital emergency rooms with complaints of respiratory problems.
At least two homes were destroyed — including one where the victim died — and several vehicles were totaled in the quarter-mile area surrounding the accident, police spokesman Chris Rankin said.
At midday, the propylene tank was still burning, but the fire was under control and the smoke had thinned out, Rankin said. Police recommended that residents stay away from their homes.
Initially, police thought the chemical involved was vinyl acetate, which releases poisonous fumes. Officers went door to door, urging thousands of people in a 2-by-5 mile area to move to the north side of town. Propylene is less dangerous.
“The smoke was so thick it blocked out daylight,” Rankin said.
A Union Pacific train coming from Chicago hit the back of another freight train in the rail yard, causing the eight cars to derail, said Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis. He said his initial report involving “a small LPG tank” was wrong.
The train was headed for Laredo, Texas, when it hit the back of the other Union Pacific freight train, which was coming from Pine Bluff and headed for Harlingen, Texas, Davis said.
None of the railroad crews were injured, he said.
Rankin said the switching yard is behind the police station, about a quarter mile from the Texas border and also serves Kansas City Southern and Amtrak.
Wadley Regional Medical Center was in the evacuation area, and several patients and nurses also complained of nose and eye irritation, spokeswoman Shelby Brown said.