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Propane cars explode, part of city being evacuated

Mar 12, 2007 | AP A fiery explosion of a freight train carrying liquid propane forced an evacuation Monday from this small central New York city and shut down a section of the state Thruway.

The 7 a.m. blast sent a huge fireball into the dawn sky. Thick, black smoke continued to pour out hours later as about half a dozen propane tanker cars burned, said Oneida Police Chief David Meeker. Fire crews were trying to keep the flames from spreading to other tankers on the derailed 80-car train, about half of which carried propane.

"There is danger of further explosions," said Oneida Fire Department Lt. Kevin Salerno.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or fatalities.

A 23-mile stretch of the Thruway, which passes within a mile of the explosion, was closed in both directions as a precaution, said Patrick Noonan, a spokesman for the Thruway Authority.

Amtrak suspended service between Syracuse and Albany.

Officials were evacuating an area of about a one-mile radius from the blast, which included most of the downtown area of the city of 10,000. Meeker couldn't say how many people were evacuated. Up to 4,000 live in the affected area, though the evacuation was mandatory only for homes closest to the blast.

Meeker said the explosion followed the derailment of about 15 cars.

The CSX Corp. train was headed from Buffalo to Selkirk, just south of Albany, and consisted of 80 cars about half of them propane tankers, said company spokesman Robert Sullivan. He said the cause of the accident hadn't been determined yet.

"Our focus right now is protecting the public," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said two other cars were carrying hazardous materials. One contained a flammable liquid and the other carried a corrosive, but he had no other details on the materials.

A Madison County Sheriff's Department dispatcher said the train was in a non-populated area on Oneida's north side, although within the city limits.

Westbound Thruway traffic was being directed off at Exit 33 in Verona and eastbound vehicles were being directed off the Thruway at Exit 34A in suburban Syracuse. Traffic was being rerouted around the fire scene to local roads, Noonan said.

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