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Residents of Kentucky Allowed to Return Home for Thanksgiving After Train Derailment and Chemical Spill

Video: People impacted by train derailment in Ohio sit down for Thanksgiving dinner
People impacted by train derailment in Ohio sit down for Thanksgiving dinner

A chemical fire at a Kentucky train derailment that caused evacuations has been extinguished and people can return to their homes, rail operator CSX said Thursday.

CSX spokesperson Bryan Tucker said in an email Thursday afternoon that “the fire is completely out.” He said that authorities and CSX officials reviewed air monitoring data and decided it was safe to let displaced return home.

The CSX train derailed around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday near Livingston, a remote town with about 200 people in Rockcastle County. Residents were encouraged to evacuate.

Two of the 16 cars that derailed carried molten sulfur, which caught fire after the cars were breached, CSX said in a previous statement Wednesday. It’s believed that the fire released the potentially harmful gas sulfur dioxide, but officials have not released results of measurements taken from air monitoring equipment that were deployed Wednesday night.

“Thank you to the first responders who worked hard to put out the fire at the train derailment site in Rockcastle County,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said in a social media post. “While there is still work to be done, we are thankful for the good news that our families in Livingston are able to spend the rest of Thanksgiving at home.”

Cindy Bradley had just finished cooking for Thanksgiving when an official knocking loudly Wednesday and urged her to leave her small Kentucky home as soon as possible.

She ended up at Rockcastle County Middle School in Livingston — unsure 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 have to get out of here,'” Livingston resident Cindy Bradley told CBS affiliate WKYT-TV from the emergency shelter. “We said, ‘What about Thanksgiving?'”

This image taken from video and provided by WTVQ shows people sitting at a table at Rockcastle Middle School being used as an evacuation center in Mt Vernon, Ky., Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023.

One member of the two-person train crew was treated at the scene for minor injuries, according to WKYT, and Kentucky emergency management officials said no one was hospitalized.

Two other cars carrying magnesium hydroxide did not breach, CSX said, noting that the remaining cars were either empty or carried products deemed “non-hazardous,” like grain or plastic.

Livingston resident Linda Todd told WKYT that she was “freaking out” about being told to leave while in the middle of preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

“I’m like, ‘We’re cooking, we have turkeys in the oven, we can’t leave,” Todd said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency 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. The American Lung Association said long-term exposure to the chemicals can be especially hazardous to children, the elderly and those with asthma.

Beshear had declared a state of emergency in the county Wednesday, assuring crews all the help from the state they need. He asked the public to keep in mind the emergency workers and people forced to spend Thanksgiving away from home.

“Please think about them and pray for a resolution that gets them back in their homes. Thank you to all the first responders 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.

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