West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency in Kanawha and Fayette counties after a CSX Corp. train carrying oil from North Dakota to the coastal town of Yorktown in Virginia derailed, setting on fire some of the train's cars and causing others to fall into the Kanawha River.
Robert Jelacic, night shift manager of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told Reuters at least one person is being treated for possible inhalation injuries after the 109-car train carrying Bakken crude in all but two of the train's cars derailed at Adena Village near Deep River at around 1:30 p.m. local time on Monday, Feb. 16.
"Declaring a state of emergency ensures that residents of both Kanawha and Fayette counties have the access they need to resources necessary to handle all stages of the emergency," said Gov. Tomblin. "State officials are on site and will continue to work with local and federal officials as well as CSX representatives throughout the incident."
CSX said the train was hauling Bakken crude to a Plains All American Pipelines oil depot midstream amid a raging snowstorm when the train derailed, sending at least one oil tanker into the Armstrong Creek tributary of the Kanawha River and burning at least one house near the river. According to First Sergeant Greg Duckworth, who was at the site of the derailment, at least nine train cars have exploded within half-hour intervals since the crash.
At approximately 9:30 p.m., billows of fire and smoke continued to rise into the sky. Firefighters have no choice but to wait for the fire to burn itself out, said Joe Crist, fire coordinator for Fayette County. The freezing temperatures and continuing snowfall also adds more challenges for the firefighting and clean-up crew. Officials reported it could be weeks before it is deemed safe for residents to return to their homes.
Hundreds of families composed of around 1,000 residents within a one-mile radius were evacuated, said Lawrence Messina, spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
CSX is providing hotel room accommodations for the affected families, while additional shelter has been set up at Valley Elementary School in Smithers. A Community Outreach Center has also been established at the Glen Ferris Inn to address residents' and businesses' needs.
Foremost among the residents' concerns is the state of water quality in the area where the tankers fell into the river. West Virginia American Water (WVAW), which sources water from the Kanawha River just three miles downstream of Armstrong Creek to provide water to communities in Montgomery, Smithers, Cannelton, London, Handley and Hughes Creek, says some 2,000 customers will be affected in a shutdown of its water treatment facility in Montgomery. Another plant in Cedar Grove is also closed. WVAW is currently sourcing bottled water supplies for its affected customers.
"If there is clear confirmation from responders that crude oil and other potential contaminants resulting from the accident did not reach the Kanawha River, the West Virginia River Bureau for Public Health has given us permission to restart the Montgomery plant," said WVAW on its Facebook page.
The derailment took place just 200 miles west of Lynchburg in Virginia, where another CSX train carrying oil to the same Plains oil depot in Yorktown derailed and exploded in April.
Following the CSX crash, government officials proposed to require old train tankers carrying oil from the North Dakota Bakken shale to add an extra 1/8th inch of steel to the tank shells, while new models will have thicker hulls.
It's unclear what type of oil tankers were involved in Monday's crash. Officials are still investigating the cause of derailment.