The lawyers and attorneys at our firm are currently representing a variety of individuals and businesses in a class action lawsuit that suffered injuries as a result of the derailment of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company train in Lafayette, Louisiana on May 17, 2008. The derailment caused the release of toxic chemicals in the area, including hydrochloric acid. The derailment and chemical spill affected a large scope of the Lafayette Parish area of Louisiana. The train was headed to Lake Charles, near the Texas border and about 75 miles west of Lafayette.The six-car derailment caused one of the cars to leak the hydrochloric acid, which formed a yellowish pool. Cleanup crews used lime to neutralize the chemical, while contractors for the rail company excavated the acid for disposal. The widespread chemical release emitted hazardous and harmful chemicals and toxins which can cause both medical problems and property damage and spread a large, toxic cloud over Lafayette, a southern Louisiana city about 125 miles west of New Orleans. Five people, including two railroad workers, were sent to a hospital and treated after complaining of skin and eye irritation, state police said.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe train derailment caused a huge evacuation that included not only train workers and local residents, but also many businesses in the area, forcing such businesses to close down during and following the train derailment and chemical spill. A portion of the area remains closed.
Following the derailment, approximately 3,000 residents and businesses in northwest Lafayette—all those within a one-mile perimeter of the derailment—were displaced. The train derailment occurred at the Ambassador Caffery Parkway overpass. Those operating within 1,000 feet of the derailment are still under evacuation orders. It is believed no residents were involved in the smaller perimeter area.
The derailment and leak also led to a number of major road closures, including the Ambassador Caffery, Cameron, Bertrand, and Interstate 10. The Ambassador Caffery overpass remains closed at the railroad-crossing site. Because some of the rail cars may have hit the underside of the overpass, the state Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) must clear its use and approve is reopening.
Meanwhile, the DOTD cannot work in the area until all of the toxic chemical cleanup is completed and the final 1,000-yard safety zone has been dissolved. That portion of the work is expected to take a couple of more days.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Evacuation Order
The evacuation order was enacted early on Saturday morning after six cars on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe derailed, rupturing one rail car. An estimated 11,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid leaked from the ruptured rail car. Hydrochloric acid can cause respiratory problems and irritation to the skin and eyes.
Clean-up crews were deployed to the site and neutralized the acid with lime. According to the state Department of Environmental Quality, the railroad company intends to dig out the resultant material for disposal. According to state police, more than half of the 11,000 gallons of acid has been removed so far.
A variety of families stayed at the Red Cross shelter established at the Carencro High School. This shelter was dismantled by 9:00 PM on Saturday when other accommodations were arranged by the rail company for the displaced at area hotels. A nursing home was forced to evacuate its 161 residents with 35 residents taken to local hospitals because their frail and weakened conditions did not enable their movement to other facilities.
Also, an Amtrak Sunset Limited heading from Los Angeles was detoured and arrived about one and a-half hours late in New Orleans. A number of passengers bound for Lafayette and other Louisiana stops were bused out of Houston.
The Texas rail company that operated the train started an investigation and its findings will be submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration. “A thorough investigation will take place. It could take a while,” said spokesman Joe Faust of BNSF Railway.
Residents affected by the derailment and spill are asked to bring a driver’s license, utility bills—to prove residency—and expense receipts to the claims center that has been set up at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Cajundome. The center will be open from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM through Thursday and 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Friday. Faust said BNSF would reimburse evacuated residents for hotel and restaurant bills incurred during the evacuation.