Train derails in Ripley causing ethanol leak, dozens evacuated

Mar 2, 2016

Crews are working to remove some of the 16 cars on an eastbound Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in southwestern New York and forced the evacuation of several homes because of leaks in two ethanol tankers. Evacuated residents, meanwhile, were wondering when they could finally go home.

A rail company spokesman and police dispatchers say the derailment occurred around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in the town of Ripley, about 60 miles southwest of Buffalo. Officials say there were no injuries and no fires, but two of the three cars containing hazardous materials leaked.

Crews were beginning the task Wednesday of clearing derailed cars from the tracks in the Town of Ripley.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Rail officials said Wednesday morning one of leaking ethanol tankers had been contained while the leak in the other was being collected in buckets. A derailed tanker containing propane is intact, according to rescue officials.

Heave equipment could be seen on Wednesday morning at the scene, clearing damage in preparation of the work that needs to be completed before displaced residents could go back home.

"There's a liquid propane tank car that we have to get uprighted and offloaded, and there's also two tankers of ethanol that need to be pumped out," said Ripley Fire Chief Mark Smith. "This is just a precaution. I don't want anything happening to the residents of the town."

Smith estimated up to 80 homes were evacuated, possibly displacing as many as 100 people. Some were able to find temporary shelter with friends or family. Others were taken to a hotel just across the Pennsylvania line. Others stayed in the sanctuary of Ripley Methodist Church, just a few blocks from the wreck.

These were some of the cots available inside the sanctuary of Ripley Methodist Church, where some of the evacuated residents stayed Tuesday night. Others were placed in a hotel just across the state line in Pennsylvania, while others were staying with relatives or friends.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

When WBFO visited the church late Wednesday morning, about a half dozen people were there, all but one of them sleeping. The lone person who was awake was a teenager, identified only as Javier, who was fiddling with his handheld electronic device. 

"A fireman came to our door around 11:00," he explained. "Hearing the doorbell, heard a knock on the door, they told us we had to evacuate the house."

Javier said he was nervous at first, but quickly got used to his temporary surroundings. 

As of late Wednesday, there was no word on when residents could return to their homes. 

"They're getting anxious right now, and I can't blame them," Chief Smith said. "But our job is to protect them."

Also affected by the derailment is Amtrak passenger train service between Chicago and New York City. The Norfolk  Amtrak says the eastbound Lake Shore Limited was stopping at Cleveland while the westbound  train was stopping at Buffalo. Buses were ferrying passengers between the two cities.