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Union Pacific train derails in Mecca

March 4, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
A toxic cloud hangs over the site of a train derailment in Riverside County, as hazmat crews try to clean up the mess. The derailment has forced the evacuation of about 60 residents.

A Union Pacific train derailed Thursday night in Mecca, north of the Salton Sea, near Highway 111. The 65-car train was heading from West Colton to El Centro when 29 cars went off the track.

A lot of the train cars contained harmless goods such as wheat, molasses, and corn, but a couple of the tanker cars contained phosphoric and hydrochloric acid. Those cars caught fire Thursday night sending dangerous chemicals into the air, as well as some of them seeping into the ground.

The derailment occurred on a major east-west track. So far there is no word on how long the track will be closed. Some cargo has been rerouted through Salt Lake City.

Sixty people have been evacuated because of the hydrochloric acid leak. Hydrochloric acid is corrosive to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Acute short-term inhalation can cause eye, nose, and respiratory tract irritation and inflammation, plus a buildup of fluid in the lungs.

Residents were evacuated to a couple of local places including Coachella Valley High School and a community center. There's no word on how long the evacuation will be in place, but there is concern about the safety of the residents.

"What you have is when that liquid comes out and then it starts vaporizing into a gas, you can get a little bit of a plume," said Julie Hutchinson, CalFire. "Last night it was moist out here and we had about a 20-25 foot high plume that was just kind of sitting over the site. We had a little breeze, nothing much. What we did is we took the downwind area based on the weather we were having and what was predicted and did a precautionary evacuation of those people that are downwind, cuz should we get an increase in the wind that plume could get pushed that way."

Highway 111 is closed for nine miles between the 66 Ave. and Cleveland. Many other smaller roads are also closed.

Fortunately, there are no reports of any injuries in the crash.

Authorities are still looking into what caused the derailment. It could be a variety of things including a mechanical problem with the train, a problem with the tracks, or a human factor.

The last train wreck out in this area was April of last year.

 

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