La. Derailment Forces Evacuation

Sunday, May 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EUNICE, La. (AP) — Roughly 3,500 people were still being kept out of their homes Sunday after several train cars loaded with hazardous chemicals derailed and exploded.

The rail cars and trees in a nearby woods were still burning Sunday morning, and the evacuations, ordered after explosions sent fireballs into the sky Saturday, remained in effect.

No injuries were reported, but homes and businesses up to 2 1/2 miles from the wreck were evacuated after soot began falling, state Trooper E.J. Chesne said.

``It looked like those pictures of the atomic bomb, a mushroom cloud,'' said Ruth White, a retired teacher who said she heard at least four explosions. ``I grabbed my medicine. That's all I got.''

State police Sgt. Richard Hazelwood said 29 cars derailed and at least 10 caught fire.

The worst chemicals in the wreckage were methyl chloride, acrylic acid, toluene diisocyanate and dichloropropane, Chesne said.

Methyl chloride, used to make agricultural chemicals, can cause dizziness, convulsions and even death in large amounts. Acrylic acid vapors can irritate the lungs, nose and throat.

Toluene diisocyanate, used to coat tinted glass, is flammable and can irritate the lungs, skin and eyes when touched or inhaled. And dichloropropane, used in some furniture finishes, dry cleaning fluids and paint removers, can cause shortness of breath, chest pain and can make the linings of the eyelids bleed.

The train was heading from Freeport, Texas, to Livonia, La., when it derailed shortly before noon Saturday in Eunice, 77 miles west of Baton Rouge.