WHITE MARSH, Md. » A CSX cargo train crashed into a trash truck and derailed today in a Baltimore suburb and the explosion that followed rattled homes at least a half-mile away and collapsed nearby buildings, setting them on fire, officials and witnesses said.
The train went off the tracks at about 2 p.m. in White Marsh, about 10 miles northeast of Baltimore. Hazmat teams were on the scene, but fire officials did not have immediate information on what might be still be burning.
Baltimore County Public Safety tweeted that if residents and others can see the smoke plume, they should evacuate the area, at least within 20 blocks. At least 15 cars derailed, said Baltimore County Fire Chief John J. Hohman.
Dale Walston said he lives about a half-mile away from the blast site and that the smell of chemicals is very strong.
"It shook my house pretty violently and knocked things off the shelves," he said in an email to The Associated Press.
The thick plume of black smoke was visible for miles, the smoke drifting across the Baltimore city line and covering the eastern part of the city.
More than one video posted to Facebook shows the fire, then minutes later, an explosion rattles the area. Hohman said firefighters were letting the blazes burn out. Officials were considering evacuating the area, but it’s mostly an area of commercial buildings, he said.
Photos and video on TV stations showed at least three rail cars off the tracks. Overhead news shots show several blackened buildings and fires burning. Fire department spokeswoman Louise Rogers Feher said several buildings "fell apart." They also showed a tractor-trailer overturned near the front of the crash.
County executive Kevin Kamenetz told WBAL-TV that the truck driver was in serious but stable condition. The fire department tweeted that two CSX workers aboard weren’t injured.
A worker at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, Tawan Rai, reached by The Associated Press by phone, said he saw a fire and flames by the railroad tracks at first, then felt a thundering blast that sent smoke pouring into the sky.
"The whole building shook and there was just dust everywhere," said Rai, adding no windows broke but he was surprised by the intensity of the blast. "I went outside and people were rushing there, the police officers, fire trucks."
He also said he saw some ambulances arrive but didn’t see anyone injured.
He also said police had apparently stopped traffic on nearby Pulaski Highway not far from the tracks and he no longer had any customers at his donut shop.
John Kane, treasurer of Atlantic Tire on nearby Pulaski Highway, said the explosion blew out two large showcase windows and light fixtures in his shop. The highway, also called Route 40, is shut down to the Baltimore city line as well as some side streets in area.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to the crash site to investigate.
The derailment is the third serious one this month. In Bridgeport, Conn., on May 17, more than 70 people were injured when a commuter train derailed. The eastbound train from New York City went off the tracks during evening rush hour, came to a stop and was struck about 20 seconds later by a westbound train.
In Rockview, Mo., on Saturday, a cargo train crash injured seven people and destroyed a highway overpass that could take a year to repair.
Some businesses closed immediately, fearful of the unidentified contents of a heavy plume of black smoke roiling into the atmosphere. At seafood supplier S. DiPaula & Sons Seafood Inc., a good-natured voice left a message on the answering machine afterward that the business was closing early for the day.
"Hello, this is S. DiPaula & Sons Seafood. Today is Tuesday and it’s around 2:30 in the afternoon. We have decided to close due to a large explosion relatively close to our building and a heavy black plume of smoke that we can’t tell what’s in it."
In each of the past five years, CSX has reported more than 100 deaths in accidents and incidents involving the railroad.
The Federal Railroad Administration says CSX reported 104 deaths in 2012, down from 122 in 2011 and 117 in 2010. The railroad reported 102 deaths in 2009 and 122 in 2008.
The number of derailments on CSX’s network in the eastern United States has been declining steadily since 2008 when it reported 229 derailments. Last year, CSX reported 143 derailments. CSX, based in Jacksonville, Fla., operates over 21,000 miles of track in 23 eastern states and two Canadian provinces.
CSX shares traded higher today before the derailment was reported. The shares closed down 20 cents at $25.30.
Associated Press writers Kasey Jones in Baltimore and Josh Funk in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.