Train carrying crude burns in western Alabama

ALICEVILLE, Ala. — A tanker train carrying crude oil caught fire and exploded after derailing in western Alabama early Friday, sending flames and black smoke into the air and temporarily forcing one family to leave their home.

Emergency officials said three train cars exploded overnight in Pickens County about four miles outside Aliceville, which is near the Mississippi line. A dozen cars derailed and nine were damaged.

An undetermined amount of oil spilled into nearby water, but officials said there were no signs of a spreading slick or any threat to drinking water. Aerial photographs showed what appeared to be oil in muddy water around the wreckage.

Yasamie August, a spokeswoman for Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said no injuries were reported. The family was evacuated as a precaution but returned home soon after, she said.

Sheriff David Abston said the train derailed shortly after midnight near a trestle that crosses water. Flames turned the night sky orange, he said.

“It was a bright fire. It was visible from a long way,” said Abston.

Firefighters let the blaze burn out since the damage was contained to a rural area. A daytime photo released by the state emergency agency showed five tank cars standing upright on a rail bed with dark smoke visible in the background.

“It was scary, especially (with) two boys in the house, two little kids,” witness Heather Garner told WBMA-TV. “And I was sitting outside when one tank blew. And it looked like fire was just coming straight toward the house.”

The accident happened in a wetlands area near a creek and the Tombigbee River. Regional emergency coordinator Don Hartley said it appeared some oil had entered the water but flames prevented a close investigation.

“Fortunately a beaver dam has caused the water to stand still,” he said. “Any product in water wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Scott Hughes, a spokesman with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said an initial test found no contamination to drinking water.

Hartley said the short-line train, operated by the Alabama & Gulf Coast Railway, was headed to Florida at the time of the accident, which occurred near a trestle that appeared badly damaged after the accident.

“One thing the investigation will look at is whether the trestle caused the accident of the accident damaged the trestle,” he said.

Aliceville, with about 2,400 residents, is located about 100 miles southwest of Birmingham.