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Tanker cars burn in New Brighton; more than 500 residents evacuated

Oct 21, 2006 | Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Flames lit up the sky over New Brighton late last night after a train derailed and several tanker cars caught fire, burning into the early hours this morning and prompting an evacuation of more than 200 homes.

Police said as many as 500 to 600 people were told to leave their homes as a precaution in an area including numerous businesses.

For several hours, firefighters and other rescue crews remained at a command post about half a mile from the site where eight rail cars burned, shooting roaring flames 10- to 15-feet into the air. A few burning cars dangled from a trestle above an embankment of the Beaver River.

The engineer and the conductor aboard the train escaped injury, said Fire Chief Dennis Stone of the Daugherty Township Volunteer Fire Department.

State Department of Environmental Protection officials were among those responding at the scene.

The cause of the derailment and the complete extent or cost of damages remained unknown early this morning. "That information, right now, we're still investigating all that," said Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband.

A spokesman for the Beaver County 911 center said the train included about 80 cars, some of which were tankers loaded with liquid ethanol, an alternative fuel. "Some of the cars were carrying liquid ethanol and some did catch on fire," the spokesman said.

The accident occurred near Third Avenue and Fifth Street, near the Beaver Falls-New Brighton Bridge, according to police at the command post. The train was heading south toward Conway when the accident occurred. A local police officer said the trestle was part of the Fort Wayne line.

Brian Hayden, a spokesman for the Beaver County Emergency Operations Center said the train's midsection derailed while crossing the trestle, which is about 100 feet high and a half-mile long.

Eight rail cars on the bridge were on fire, but none abut homes or businesses and authorities did not expect the fire to spread. "None of the cars that are on land are on fire," Hayden said.

Small groups of citizens stood in groups along state Route 65, some in their robes, sharing whatever information they had gathered about the accident. Several witnesses reported hearing explosions after the train derailed. Flames and a tall gray billow of smoke could be seen from miles away.

New Brighton police working security at a local high school football game said they heard screeching of metal on metal as flames burst into the sky, lighting the night horizon for several minutes.

A large portion of New Brighton was blocked off to traffic and many residents wandered the streets, moving in and out of the porous blocked-off area. Police said the evacuated area extended from Second to Seventh avenues and from Third to Seventh street.

HazMat crews and as many as 150 firefighters from 10 municipal fire departments responded to the accident, which occurred about 10:45 p.m. But at 12:25 a.m. none of the fire crews had moved in close enough to begin battling the flames.

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