West Virginia oil train derailment: Fires for hours, smoke

A fire burns Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, after a train derailment near Charleston, W.Va. Nearby residents were told to evacuate as state emergency response and environmental officials headed to the scene. (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Steve Keenan)

MOUNT CARBON, West Virginia (AP) — Fires burned for hours after a train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in a snowstorm in West Virginia, sending a fireball into the sky and threatening the water supply of nearby residents, authorities and residents said Tuesday.

Officials evacuated hundreds of families and shut down two water treatment plant following the Monday afternoon derailment. The West Virginia National Guard was taking water samples to determine whether the oil had seeped into a tributary of the Kanawha River, state public safety division spokesman Larry Messina said.

On Tuesday, black smoke could be seen rising from some of the tanker cars in a photo posted by WSAZ-TV on Twitter.

Messina said fire crews decided to let the tanks burn themselves out.

Federal railroad and hazardous materials officials are investigating the accident, in which part of the train formation hit a house. The office of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, which has issued a state of emergency, said the tanker cars were loaded with Bakken crude from North Dakota and headed to Yorktown, Virginia.

All but two of the 109 cars being hauled were tanker cars, officials said. One person was treated for potential inhalation issues, but no other injuries were reported, according to a statement from CSX, the train company.

West Virginia American Water shut down a water treatment plant, located about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the derailment, spokeswoman Laura Jordan said. Another water plant downstream in the town of Cedar Grove also closed its intake but later resumed operations, Messina said.

The U.S. Transportation Department is weighing tougher safety regulations for rail shipments of crude, which can ignite and result in huge fireballs. Responding to a series of fiery train crashes, the government proposed rules in July that would phase out tens of thousands of older tank cars that carry increasing quantities of crude oil and other highly flammable liquids. It’s not clear how old the tankers were on the derailed train.

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Mattise reported from Charleston, West Virginia.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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