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Train derailment, fire prompts evacuation in Tennessee

  • BRITTANY BADE/WBIR.COM VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency personnel stand by as evacuees gather at the Foothills Mall early Thursday, July 2, 2015, in Maryville, Tenn., after they were forced to leave their homes when rail car carrying a flammable and toxic gas derailed and caught fire.
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MARYVILLE, Tenn. >> A car on a CSX train carrying a flammable and toxic substance derailed and caught fire in eastern Tennessee, prompting the evacuation of thousands of people within a 2-mile radius.

Blount County Fire Department Lt. Johnny Leatherwood said a call about the train derailment came in Wednesday night at 11:50 p.m. EDT in Maryville.

The fire was still burning at 8:15 a.m. Thursday, Blount County firefighter Kermit Easterling said.

About 5,000 people in the area were being evacuated along with several businesses, Leatherwood said. Also, a manufacturing plant, Denso Manufacturing, closed down Thursday morning because of its proximity to the derailment, Easterling said.

In a statement, CSX said the train car that derailed was carrying acrylonitrile, a hazardous material used in a variety of industrial processes including making plastics. The substance is flammable and is dangerous if inhaled, CSX said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, some effects of breathing acrylonitrile include headaches, dizziness, irritability and rapid heartbeat.

Ten law enforcement officers had to be taken to the hospital because they breathed in fumes, Blount County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Marian O’Briant said.

The train was traveling from Cincinnati to Waycross, Georgia, CSX said.

A statement from the Federal Railroad Administration said the agency had investigators and hazmat inspectors at the scene.

“Once it is safe, FRA will begin a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the derailment,” the statement said.

On its Facebook page, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office said early Thursday that the evacuations could last from 24 to 48 hours.

A shelter for residents was set up at a local high school. Several residents there said they were not aware of the train derailment until they got a call or someone knocked on their door early in the morning.

“We saw police going back and forth and emergency vehicles going back and forth on our road, but we didn’t know why until about 3 to 3:30,” Maryville resident John Trull said. “That’s when they told us. We didn’t hear anything (beforehand). We just saw some emergency vehicles go by and kind of wondered what was going on, and that’s about it.”

Trull said he heard from a sheriff’s deputy who knocked on his door.

“He just knocked on our door and told us there’d been an issue with one of the trains and they were evacuating the area,” he said.

Brittany Parrott said she was awakened by a knock on her apartment door at about 4:30 a.m. Although she didn’t hear the derailment, she said she noticed the effects of it as she went outside.

“You could smell it in the air,” Parrott said. “I had a headache, I was feeling nauseated and lightheaded, all the symptoms.”

Maryville is a town of nearly 30,000 people located about 20 miles south of Knoxville and just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Associated Press writer Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

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