Train carrying crude oil derails, explodes, contaminates local water supply

Posted at 4:41 AM, Feb 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-17 04:41:46-05

(CNN) — A train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded in West Virginia, displacing up to 1,000 residents and contaminating the local water supply.

At least 27 of the train’s more than 100 cars veered off the tracks, the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said. And at least 15 of the derailed cars caught fire.

One home was destroyed, and one person was injured, agency spokesman Lawrence Messina said.

Complicating matters: Oil from the train spilled into the Kanawha River, a source of drinking water in Kanawha and Fayette counties. Even parts of the river caught fire amid the explosions, Messina said.

At least two water treatment plants shut down Monday night as officials investigate how much oil may have spilled into the river, CNN affiliate WSAZ said. About 2,000 people were at risk of losing water service.

“Customers in the Montgomery area are asked to conserve water and only use it for essential functions,” West Virginia American Water said in a statement.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a state of emergency for Kanawha and Fayette counties.

About 1,000 were displaced due to the threat of fire or from power outages caused by the fire, Messina said.

The heat from the flames was so intense Monday night that crews couldn’t get closer to investigate until at least Tuesday, WSAZ said.

Chronic explosions

Some train cars exploded at unpredictable intervals, shocking residents with each deafening blast.

“We were standing down by the river bank when we saw the train explode — or a car explode — and it shot up a mushroom cloud,” witness Alex Fandor told CNN affiliate WSAZ.

As he spoke, another loud explosion sent an colossal fireball into the sky.

The blasts continued even 10 hours after the derailment. The biggest explosion took place around midnight, Montgomery volunteer firefighter John McGinnis said early Tuesday morning.

And he said there are still two or three cars that firefighters are worried about.

Messina said it’s not clear what caused the derailment.

“We’ve had some severe winter weather conditions here with significant snowfall,” he said. “We don’t yet know whether that’s a factor in this.”