Even for West Virginia, a state that has suffered more than its fair share of industrial disasters, the images from a train crash Monday are apocalyptic: many cars derailed, fires so fierce firefighters are simply waiting for them to burn out, 300-foot fireballs. "It was like an atomic bomb went off," one resident told the Associated Press.
Miraculously, there don't seem to be any serious injuries in the wreck, which took place south of Charleston. The more-than-1oo-car CSX train was hauling crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to Yorktown, Virginia. (In a bitter irony, it went off the rails in Mount Carbon.) Residents have been evacuated from the area, the West Virginia National Guard is testing a tributary Kanawha River to see if crude has seeped into it, and two water-treatment plants shut down Monday, depriving residents of running water, to avoid contamination. The cause of the crash is still unclear, officials said. While it occurred in the midst of a snowstorm, there was no definitive connection yet, and the train was on a flat stretch when the accident happened.
The wreck is the latest in a steady stream of scary crashes involving crude oil across North America. By far the worst was in Lac-Megántic, Quebec, in 2013, when 47 people were killed. In December 2013, there was a huge derailment in Casselton, North Dakota. (A second oil train derailed nearby months later, but it was empty.) Last April, 15 cars derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, Virginia.