IL evacuees go home

Most people from a small Illinois town were able to return home this week after evacuating.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | TAMAROA, Ill. | February 14, 2003

Five days after 1,000 people were evacuated from this small southern Illinois town, most were able to return to their homes.

By Friday, all but 40 to 45 people had returned to their homes, according to Chuck Genesio, coordinator for Du Quoin emergency services. Genesio said that everyone should be back in their homes by 6 p.m. Friday, and that only a few streets would remain off limits in order for hazmat teams to continue their work.

About a thousand people were evacuated Sunday from the town after a train carrying hazardous materials derailed and burst into flames.

The northbound Illinois Central-Canadian National train derailed at about 9 a.m. Sunday, about 28 miles north of Carbondale. Emergency officials evacuated a three-mile radius around the crash site. Officially, no one was injured by the accident, although there was a child who was treated and released from a local hospital Sunday, apparently for breathing problems.

The derailed train was carrying methanol, vinyl chloride, formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid, said David Searby Jr., operations officer for Du Quoin emergency services. The methanol was responsible for the flames, Searby said. The fire was under control on Monday.

According to Mike Chamness, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the fire was confined to two methanol-carrying cars, and none of the other chemicals caught fire.

There was, however, "significant leakage" of hydrochloric acid, Chamness said, which hazmat workers neutralized with agricultural lime. Each train car held between 20,000 and 30,000 gallons of chemicals.

In addition, a small amount of vinyl chloride, a highly toxic chemical, leaked from one tanker. Chamness estimated that no more than a few gallons of the chemical spilled.

All the vinyl chloride was removed from the crash site yesterday, for fear that the methanol fire might spread and "produce something bad."

“The most serious issue [workers] dealt with an the site was the vinyl chloride car,” Chamness said.

Preliminary environmental assessments of the area were not showing any contamination.

“We’ve been testing air and water, and we’re not picking up anything," Chamness said. "It’s pretty much contained to the site itself.”

Because of the small impact of the leak, families living within one and three miles of the crash site were allowed back to their homes Tuesday.

Hazmat teams from Illinois Central-Canadian National, state and federal environmental officials and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were working to determine the cause of the crash and the environmental impact of the spill and the fire.

The American Red Cross set up a "mass care unit" at the American Legion Hall in Du Quoin, about ten miles from the accident. The Red Cross had rented out motel rooms for 64 evacuees, and housed others in the American Legion.

Sandy Webster, Midwest region administrator for the Red Cross, said about 25 people had also sought counseling for "typical anxiety-related issues," a large number for such a small town (Tamaroa has a population of about 800).

The Rev. Bob Dickerson of the First Baptist Church of Du Quoin said the town and surrounding community handled the accident in an admirable fashion.

"There were a lot of people displaced, but they all have family around here," he said. "People just took other people in. They were all covered, which says a lot for our community."

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