Train derailment sparks Stone County chemical scare

Photos courtesy MDOT
Photos courtesy MDOT

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

STONE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A train pulling five chlorine tankers and two sodium hydroxide cars derailed Tuesday morning in Stone County. So rescue teams immediately evacuated homeowners near the accident. Amazingly, none of the chlorine cars exploded, and none of the chemicals leaked.

Every day, trains roll through South Mississippi hauling a variety of hazardous materials past homes and businesses. Rescue teams often train for situations like a derailment. On Tuesday, Stone County had a chance to put that training to the test.

Jody Hatten's job was to set up a staging area for first responders. The Wiggins Fire Chief had a map that highlighted where the train derailed.

"The railroad tracks are just around the curve here," he said, pointing to the spot he marked with a Sharpee.

On those tracks sat four Kansas City Southern locomotives. And behind them, one large railroad mess.

"They're all intertwined with each other. The rails are messed up pretty bad," Chief Hatten said.

Seven tankers on the southbound freight train derailed next to Old Highway 49 in Stone County. Daniel Johnson is MDOT's Rail Inspector.

"Some are upside down. Some are on their side," he said.

Stone County Emergency Management Director Raven James first heard about the train trouble at 6:00 a.m.

"I'd say we were fortunate. We didn't have a leak," James said. "But we're still taking the precautions because they still have to turn those cars back up."

Early on, rescue teams feared that leaks from the seven derailed tankers would create a health hazard around the community. As a precaution, Stone County ordered 16 people who live near the railroad tracks to evacuate the area.

"When it actually happens, you just try to put your training to work, make the necessary calls to the resources that you have got available to you. And we go from there," James explained.

By mid-morning, investigators determined the overturned cars didn't rupture.

"These cars will take a great deal of abuse before a breach is ever made," noted Johnson.

Eight hours after the derailment, the front half of the train slowly pulled away from the wreckage. Repair teams began replacing damaged rail ties, and investigators searched for the cause of this train mishap in Stone County.

"There's just so much debris, it's really going to take time before we determine exactly what caused it," the MDOT investigator said.

The speed limit for trains in that area is only 10 miles per hour, and investigators say they have no reason to suspect the train was exceeding that limit.