About 54 homes in the rural area outside Ligonier, Ind., were evacuated last week after a Norfolk Southern train derailed, and at least part of a cargo of molten sulfur caught fire.
Michael “Mick” Newton, director of emergency management for Noble County, Ind., said the train derailed in a rural area.
Noble County emergency responders were notified at 5:33 a.m., Tuesday, March 27.
He said 21 cars derailed. Of those, eight or nine were carrying molten sulfur. Several of those cars breached, and after the derailment, the sulfur began burning.
A car carrying the gasoline additive toluene and two box cars carrying wine were also in the mix.
The derailment presented a problem, because the Little Elkhart River was on one side of the tracks, and a creek that feeds the river was on the other.
As a result fire officials opted not to use water to extinguish the fire, instead preferring to let it burn itself out.
With plumes of yellow smoke rising from the sulfur, emergency responders initially called for the evacuation of six homes.
However, Newton said over the next two days, the wind rotated 360 degrees.
“That made us extend and expand the evacuation area. It ended up about 53 or 54 homes in the total area of evacuation or recommended evacuation,” he said.
Newton said on Wednesday morning, a little more than 24 hours after the derailment, a school bus passed through an area that was believed to be safe, but was in fact covered by the plume.
He said several children complained of sore throats and-or eyes. All had to be checked.
Norfolk Southern and contractors hired by NS did most of the cleanup work. An NS contractor conducted continuous air quality monitoring.
Newton said after the derailment, foam was noticed on the surface of the Little Elkhart River, so a chemical absorbing boom was placed downstream to catch any possible contamination.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management tested the water and did not find any contamination. It is now believed the foam may have occurred naturally.
Newton said the fire was under control by 6 pm, Wednesday, March 28. By that time, air monitoring had not detected anything dangerous in the air.
However, railroad officials asked that the evacuation remain in place in case of a flare-up.
At 6 am, Thursday, March 29, Newton said the air was still testing clear, but NS officials still wanted more time. At 8 am, they said the evacuation could be lifted.
The evacuation was offi- cially called off at 9 am.
Dave Pidgeon, manager of public relations for NS, said he could not get into the details of the response to the derailment, other than to say the railroad was overseeing the cleanup.
The twin-track line, which runs from Buffalo, N.Y., to Chicago, Ill., also passes through Archbold.
Pidgeon said freight trains were rerouted around the problem area. Some trains traveled over NS tracks, while some moved over tracks owned by other railroads.
The derailment caused problems for Amtrak passenger service.
One report said an Amtrak train spent several hours stranded outside Bryan until passengers were picked up by a bus.
Vernae Graham, an Amtrak spokesman, said a “bus bridge” was set up between Toledo and Byron, Ill. Amtrak passengers were transported by bus until they could board the train again at either of those two places.
While there was still some work to do at the site, Pidgeon said the first of the two tracks was reopened to train traffic at midnight on Thursday. The second track reopened about seven hours later.
Amtrak ended its bus bridge, and “we’re running rail through there now,” Pidgeon said.