(Lawtell, Louisiana – August 4, 2013)
Crisis control was at the ultimate level Sunday afternoon after a 76-car Union Pacific freight train being pulled by two locomotives derailed 23 cars, 14 of them loaded with a variety of hazardous materials, in the small St. Landry Parish community of Lawtell, LA . This derailment led to releases of several of the substances and the precautionary evacuation of over 100 homes within a one-mile radius of the site of the accident, which is at the intersection of Frank Road and U.S.Highway 190. The main east-west artery (U.S. 190) in the area was shut down for at least two days while emergency workers and railroad crews worked to return the railroad to service.
The situation also led to a quick return to his home state by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who was in Milwaukee, WI, administering a conference of the Republican Governors’ Association. The Governor flew into Opelousas, LA, east of the derailment site, arriving about six hours after the 3:30 P.M. accident, to hold a situational news conference as well as to declare the area affected by the derailment a “Disaster Area.”
Among the materials known to be leaking were lube oil, dodecanol (a tasteless, colorless alcohol which can cause skin irritation), and caustic soda, a highly corrosive substance better known as lye. Also known to be among the hazardous loads derailed, but not yet leaking, were two cars of vinyl chloride monomer, which is not only caustic but also flammable and carcinogenic. The cars carrying that substance were known to be damaged but not believed to be leaking.
Heavy rain storms in the area prevented much hazardous response activity, but also aided in control of the more unstable of the products.
“Anytime you have chemicals leaking into the environment, that’s a serious issue,” said Governor Jindal, adding that “nobody knows the extent of the damage. We’ll get that in the next 24 hours.”