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Train Derailment Clears Kansas Town

September 2, 1998

HAZELTON, Kan. (AP) _ A train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed and caught fire, forcing the evacuation of this south-central Kansas town.

No one was injured in the derailment, but four cars carrying the chemicals derailed about 6:30 a.m. and three of them overturned into a ditch and caught fire.

``The whole town is shut down,″ said Andrew Kuhr, who works at the OK Co-op in Hazelton. ``Shortly before I left town, you could taste it. It was sort of a bitter bite on the tongue. It didn’t seem serious, but I could tell I shouldn’t be breathing it.″

About 200 people were evacuated from the town, which is in adjoining Barber County, several miles southwest of the accident. Officials also evacuated residents in a 5- to 7- mile radius surrounding Hazelton.

A National Guard helicopter was being brought in to dump water on the train fire, said Mike Loreg, emergency preparedness coordinator for Harper County. ``They don’t know what is going to happen when they drop water on it,″ he said, adding that some of the chemicals may interact with the water and might explode.

Firefighters and response teams from the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies can’t get within a mile of the fire, even with breathing equipment and protective suits, Loreg said.

The train was carrying nitric acid, alcohol, sodium hydroxide solution and isopropyl palmitate, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. officials said.

Of those substances, fumes from the nitric acid could pose the greatest threat to people living near the crash, University of Kansas chemistry professor John Landgrebe said. They are harmful to the skin and eyes, he said.

The sheriff’s office went door to door, made phone calls, and used CB radios to evacuate the residents, said Diana Corbett, an employee at the Harper County Sheriff’s office. Residents were sent to the town halls in nearby Anthony and Kiowah, she said.

The train was traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles. The main line was expected to be blocked for at least 24 hours.

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