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Ohio train derailment causes huge explosion, one mile radius evacuation

12 July 2012

A train derailment near the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus on July 11 caused an explosion that was seen 10 miles away. Two people who were in the vicinity of the train when it derailed were injured and drove themselves to the hospital.

The Norfolk Southern train travelling southbound from Chicago to North Carolina with two locomotives and 98 freight cars was carrying mixed freight including ethanol, styrene monomer, grain and corn syrup, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The train was more than a mile long, and was carrying 12,319 tons of material altogether. Fire officials said there were 90,000 gallons of ethanol on the train.

According to the NTSB, the train was traveling southbound, approaching a "fairly aggressive" curve in the track, and had a clear signal. The crew members said they saw nothing unusual on the track. The train was travelling below the 25 mph speed limit while navigating the curve when the train derailed.

Sixteen cars came off the track and several caught fire after the explosion. The train crew was able to safely move the locomotives and three freight cars from the scene.

Fire officials said that responding crews heard the release valve on one of the tanks of ethanol and knew they had only seconds to get away from an impending blast. Norfolk Southern said the fire would continue to burn for an undetermined amount of time. Firefighters were extinguishing flare-ups along the railroad and in the brush in the area and say they want leaking corn syrup to burn off rather than leak into storm drains.

The NTSB sent a 10-member team to Columbus to investigate the cause of the derailment. NTSB officials said the track is thoroughly inspected three times each year with ultrasonic and induction methods, and the most recent inspection was conducted on April 5. Inspectors also visually inspect the tracks twice a week.

About 30 homes were evacuated in the immediate area of the derailment and all those within a one-mile radius were advised to stay indoors. The compulsory evacuation was lifted on the evening of July 11 but a voluntary evacuation of a quarter-mile in the area was issued by the fire department.

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