Cindy Bradley had just finished cooking for Thanksgiving when an official knock loudly urged her to leave her small Kentucky home as quickly as possible because a train had derailed, ignited and spilled chemicals.
She ended up at Rockcastle County Middle School in Livingston — unsure of what was next as at least two train cars containing potentially harmful chemicals continued to burn Thursday.
“She says, ‘You’re evacuated, there’s 12 to 14 cars in the river, you’ve got to get out of here,'” Livingston resident Cindy Bradley told the CBS affiliate. WKYT-TV from the emergency shelter. “We said, ‘How about Thanksgiving?'”
The CSX train derailed around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday near Livingston, a remote town of about 200 people in Rockcastle County.
Two of the 16 cars that derailed were carrying molten sulfur, which caught fire after the cars were broken, CSX said in a statement. One member of the two-person train crew was treated at the scene for minor injuries, according to WKYT, and Kentucky emergency management said no one was hospitalized.
Livingston resident Linda Todd told WKYT she was “freaked out” to be asked to leave while she was in the middle of preparing Thanksgiving dinner.
“I’m like, ‘We’re cooking, we’ve got turkeys in the oven, we can’t leave,'” Todd said.
Crews were still working to extinguish the fire Thursday morning, the company said. WKYT reported that the fire was 50% contained as of 1 p.m. 8 Thursday, according to Rockcastle County Judge Howell Holbrook.
The fire is believed to be releasing sulfur dioxide, but officials have not released results of measurements taken from air monitoring equipment deployed Wednesday night. WKYT reported that officials hope to have the fire contained by the end of Thursday.
According to The Danish Environmental Protection Agency’s website, sulfur dioxide can cause respiratory problems, depending on the concentration and length of exposure. The gas is commonly produced by burning fossil fuels at power plants and other industrial processes, the EPA says. That said the American Lung Association long-term exposure to the chemicals can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and asthmatics.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency in the county and assured crews of all the state help they need. He asked the public to remember emergency workers and people forced to spend Thanksgiving away from home.
“Please think of them and pray for a solution that will get them back to their homes. Thank you to all the first responders who are spending this day protecting our people,” the governor said in a statement Thursday.
CSX promised to pay the costs of anyone asked to evacuate, including a Thanksgiving dinner. Emergency officials told WKYT they could not confirm when the evacuation order would be lifted.