Nebraska: Evacuation Ordered After Train Derailment Releases Fumes : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Nov 5, 2000 - 09:34 PM

Evacuation Ordered After Train Derailment Releases Fumes The Associated Press

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (AP) - More than a quarter of this city's 15,000 residents were ordered to evacuate early Sunday after a train derailment released a cloud of noxious gas. The derailment sent 15 cars of a 79-car freight train off the track. Three of the cars were torn open, spilling about 80,000 gallons of the chemical benzene, said Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman Steve Forsberg.

Barbara Meinecke, 54, who lives near the derailment site, said she woke up just before midnight to an acrid smell similar to burnt plastic.

"It was so bad it made my throat raw. It was bad enough to get me out of bed," she said.

Benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon found in gasoline, diesel and other fuels. Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness and unconsciousness; long-term exposure can do physical damage.

No injuries from the derailment or the fumes were reported.

Residents were ordered to evacuate their homes shortly after midnight, with police and other officials going door-to-door.

Authorities began allowing families to return Sunday, but fearing lingering fumes, they ordered those within seven blocks of the spill to leave again Sunday afternoon. Authorities said it likely would be 12 to 24 hours before they would be allowed to return.

"At this point, we really don't know what caused it," Forsberg said. "The train crew reported that the train was operating normally when it suddenly went into emergency braking."

A train usually automatically brakes when a car becomes separated from the train, he said. He said the train was traveling about 50 mph when it derailed.


-- Carl Jenkins (, November 05, 2000

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