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Families Inspect Homes Evacuated After Train Derailment

March 20, 1996

WEYAUWEGA, Wis. (AP) _ Holly Erdmann’s face said it all: the red eyes, the forlorn look.

She and her husband, Blaine, briefly inspected their home Tuesday, for the first time since a propane-filled freight train derailed and burst into flames, forcing them to evacuate 16 days ago.

An upstairs bathroom water pipe had burst and flooded their restored older home, ruining some antique furnishings.

The water ``did a lot of damage,″ Erdmann’s said after comforting his wife with a hug. ``All the wood floors are heaving up.″

This entire central Wisconsin town _ population 1,700 _ was evacuated March 4 after 35 cars in a Wisconsin Central Ltd. train derailed. Fourteen of the cars contained liquid propane.

The accident ignited some of the propane tankers, causing a fire that destroyed a trackside feed mill and continued to burn for days, threatening a massive explosion.

Natural gas for home heating was shut off even as extreme cold hit the area.

Some 600 people living a mile or more from the wreckage returned Monday. Like many other residents, the Erdmanns were bused to their homes from a Red Cross shelter.

Accompanied by experts to investigate such things as sewer, gas and furnace problems, the residents had 30 minutes to gather some belongings and check things out before leaving again.

Most got good news. Their homes suffered little or no damage.

Still, they won’t be allowed home for good until some 800 homes and businesses are cleared for safety, a process expected to take a day or two more.

Sgt. 1st Class Steve Olson of the Wisconsin Army National Guard said he knew of only two structures that were deemed uninhabitable _ one was City Hall, where toilets had backed up.

Jodie Javoroski scampered from a bedroom in her apartment to a living room closet, stuffing clothing into a plastic sack. The thermostat said 54 degrees. The electric heater in her water bed was still working.

``I was afraid there would be water damage and there would be water on my floor. My carpeting would be ruined,″ the 23-year-old nurse said. ``I honestly couldn’t remember how I left it.″

Meta Ernst, who was evacuated on her 79th birthday from her home of 30 years, said she was nervous as she approached the house.

``It was as if, `Oh dear God, just let my place be OK,‴ she said. ``It was. Our prayers were answered. It was good to be home, even for that little while. There’s no place like home.″

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