FREIGHT train carrying hazardous materials derails in Kansas; vandals blamed

Thursday, August 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MULVANE, Kan. (AP) _ A freight train carrying hazardous materials was burning Thursday after it hit a backhoe parked on the tracks by vandals and derailed, authorities said.

More than 100 residents of the rural area south of Wichita were evacuated as thick black smoke rose from the blaze.

There were no injuries but two sheriff's deputies were taken to a hospital after they complained of a burning sensation, Sedgwick County Fire Chief Gary Curmode said.

Curmode had estimated that up to 40 cars of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train had left the tracks, but railroad spokesman Steve Forsberg said only three engines and 10 extra-long flat cars derailed.

The train was headed to Los Angeles from Chicago when it derailed at 11:55 p.m. Wednesday. Forsberg said the train hit a backhoe belonging to a contractor working nearby.

``Between the time they quit using it earlier in the evening and when the derailment occurred, someone had moved it onto the track,'' said Forsberg, adding train crew was unable to stop in time. ``This was a very, very dangerous thing to have done.''

Curmode said officials determined there were no breathable contaminants in the air but at least 119 people from 43 homes were evacuated as a precaution.

An evacuation center was set up at a church in Derby. Curmode said people might detect what he described as a sweet or rubbery smell.

Forsberg said the cargo included carbon dioxide, compressed nitrogen, white asbestos and some perfume products.

The fire chief said he did not believe there had been a chemical spill, but firefighters held off using water because they did not know what chemicals might be involved.

``We are not doing anything until we know exactly what we are dealing with,'' he said.

Officials were most concerned about the white asbestos and sodium hydroxide. They were not immediately certain of the location of the asbestos, but believed it might be near or underneath the piled-up wreckage.

Heavy equipment was brought in to separate the burned and unburned cars.