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Train With Hazmats Derails in Illinois

February 10, 2003

TAMAROA, Ill. (AP) _ A freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in the middle of town Sunday and authorities evacuated as many as 1,000 people in a three-mile area. One chemical leaked and caught fire.

No injuries were reported after 16 to 21 cars of a northbound Illinois Central-Canadian National train derailed during the morning, authorities said.

``It sounded like a (automobile) wreck, but I didn’t pay attention to it,″ said Nina Rich, 74, who was at home when the train derailed and later became one of the evacuees.

Officials expected residents, including nearly everyone in this town of about 800 people, would be out of their homes until at least Monday while cleanup crews worked to stabilize the chemicals and then right the derailed cars.

``There’s nothing you can do about it, so it’s not worth getting upset about,″ said evacuee Elizabeth Stein.

Residents up to a mile from the scene were evacuated because the train was carrying vinyl chloride, formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid, Perry County Sheriff Keith Kellerman said. ``Those are the three chemicals we can identify now,″ he said.

All three chemicals are hazardous to breathe and could cause death in high concentrations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many emergency workers were kept away from the trains because of the danger, Kellerman said.

Vinyl chloride leaked from one or two cars and caught fire, said Kellerman and Canadian National spokesman Jack Burke. The fire was out by late afternoon.

The train, operated by a two-person crew, likely had 100 or more cars, Burke said. He said chemical-hauling trains typically roll north from Louisiana to Chicago or to a switching point in Effingham for movement elsewhere. Each car carried 24,000 pounds of chemicals.

Air tests conducted upwind of the site indicated no pollution, said Chris Cahnovsky, an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency field worker. He said crews would be checking for possible soil and groundwater contamination.

Tamaroa is 28 miles north of Carbondale in southern Illinois.

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