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Fiery W.Va. Derailment Prompts More Concern About Transporting Oil


Federal regulators are on the scene of a train derailment in West Virginia. While there are no deaths, yesterday's accident has renewed concern about the safety of transporting oil. At least 26 cars derailed and 20 of them caught fire next to a river. It's the third such accident in a year, as Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports.

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: Kristi Halstead and her family were at home in Adena Village, just a few hundred feet from the accident site. When the train derailed it started an intense fire that destroyed their neighbor's home.

KRISTI HALSTEAD: It was like being in hell. If you've never seen - it was like, the flames were just - it's just like you were right there in it. They were just as red as they could be.

MISTICH: Halstead and her husband went to the Glen Ferris Inn this afternoon, about 10 minutes away. Others, like Charles Webster of Deep Water - another small town three miles from the accident - went to this makeshift community outreach center. He needed help after drinking water supplies were limited because some of the oil had spilled into the icy river.

CHARLES WEBSTER: I was already in Montgomery and couldn't get back, so I just went over - that was my old high school. I found out they were sheltering there, so I went there.

MISTICH: Last night?


MISTICH: Sure. And what about today, they told you to come down here?

WEBSTER: Yes because there was no water at the high school and they can't keep it open for sanitary reasons.

MISTICH: A few miles away, in Montgomery, emergency crews created an outpost with heavy machinery and railroad materials along a snowy street. The train belonged to CSX. Company spokeswoman Melanie Cost says no cars fell into the river, as was earlier reported.

MELANIE COST: Right now we're letting it burn because that's the safest thing to do for the first responders and the community. So we don't have a concrete timeline. But we're also doing as much assessment as we can so that once that fire is out, we can move to the restoration phase as quickly as possible.

MISTICH: This incident comes after another train carrying oil derailed this past weekend in Canada. Last year, a similar accident happened in Virginia. And in 2013, 47 people died in Quebec after an oil train derailed and exploded. Regulators have been under pressure to use a tougher rail car to limit punctures. But Devorah Ancel, with the Sierra Club, says the cars in yesterday's accident were using that improved model called CPC 1232.

DEVORAH ANCEL: The fleet of crude-by-rail cars is made up of a few different types of models, but the CPC 1232s are not bulletproof. And they are not of a quality that even the Department of Transportation has been proposing in its new federal regulations to improve crude-by-rail safety.

MISTICH: No one knows what caused the train derailment or how much oil spilled into the Kanawha River. For NPR News, I'm Dave Mistich in Charleston, W. Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dave Mistich is the Charleston Reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. A native of Washington, West Virginia, Dave can be heard throughout week on West Virginia Public Radio, including during West Virginia Morning and Inside Appalachia. He also anchors local newscasts during Weekend Edition on Saturday mornings and covers the House of Delegates for The Legislature Today.