Hundreds of people were evacuated in rural Kentucky on Thanksgiving after a train derailed and erupted into flames, causing a dangerous chemical leak.
At least 16 of the train’s 40 cars derailed at Livingston, 60 miles south of Lexington. As a result of the train crash, molten sulfur caught fire and emitted hazardous odors.
Lexington is a small town with a population of 200 people.
The train is said to have crashed at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and the crisis worsened throughout the night as chemicals poured from the wreckage.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has proclaimed a state of emergency in response.
Gov. Andy Beshear has declared a state of emergency following a multiple-car train derailment that occurred in Rockcastle County this afternoon.— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) November 23, 2023
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Governor Beshear’s press statement provided more information on the situation in Kentucky:
Gov. Andy Beshear has declared a state of emergency following a multiple-car train derailment that occurred in Rockcastle County this afternoon.
The Rockcastle County judge/executive has declared a state of emergency for the county and the Governor’s executive order allows the state to activate resources, including Kentucky Emergency Management and the Kentucky National Guard, as needed to help protect Kentucky families and communities. Response efforts for the incident are ongoing, and local officials are encouraging those in the town of Livingston to evacuate.
“By issuing a state of emergency, we are ensuring that every state resource is available to help keep our families safe,” Gov. Beshear said. “Please stay clear of this area as state, local and CSX officials respond.”
The state’s Emergency Operations Center has also been activated to Level 4. The state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet Emergency Response Team is also on scene.
The Governor has also activated the state’s price gouging laws to protect families from grossly overpriced goods and services. With the state of emergency in place, consumers in the commonwealth can report price gouging to the Office of the Attorney General. Under state law, price gougers can be held accountable.
Local officials urged residents of Livingston to leave, he added.
According to a news statement from railroad operator CSX, the incident included at least 16 cars. CSX said that two cars were “breached” and a portion of the sulfur caught fire.
According to the train operator, sulfur dioxide gas was leaked into the atmosphere. SO2 is considered to be a greenhouse gas that is often found in volcanic emissions.
CSX has been monitoring the air quality in the area.
“We will work together with the local authorities to secure the area and safety is our top priority as we develop a recovery plan,” CSX said.
According to CBS station WKYT-TV, one crew member was treated at the site for minor injuries.
CSX also stated that it will reimburse the cost of hotel accommodations for Mount Vernon residents.
“She says, ‘You’re evacuated, there’s 12 to 14 cars in the river, you have to get out of here,’” Livingston resident Cindy Bradley told WKYT from an emergency shelter.
“We said, ‘What about Thanksgiving?’”
“I was freaking out, because I’m like, ‘We’re cooking, we have turkeys in the oven, we can’t leave,” Livingston resident Linda Todd told the station.
According to the American Lung Association, sulfur dioxide exposure can induce respiratory problems such as shortness of breath.
Long-term exposure to the chemical can be particularly dangerous for youngsters, the elderly, and people suffering from asthma.