A train hauling hazardous chemicals jumped the tracks on a steep hill Thursday and exploded in flames, killing two crew members, injuring 20 others and spewing toxic smoke into the sky.
“I felt a boom … We had an earthquake yesterday, and I thought it was another earthquake aftershock,” said Ron Beth, who was jolted awake in his motel room a few hundred feet away. “I look out and see this big gray-colored column of smoke.”
Most of the injured were police officers and transportation officials who complained of chest pains, shortness of breath and skin rashes. They were taken to several hospitals.
Two of the three crew members were killed, but the engineer escaped with lacerations and an injured back after Patrick Davis, who lives nearby, pulled him through the window of an overturned locomotive.
“I couldn’t see anybody else and one engine was on fire and the other engine blew up,” Davis said.
All four of the train’s locomotives and 46 of its 49 cars left the tracks shortly after 4 a.m., said Mike Martin, a spokesman for Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Corp. Five tank cars contained hazardous chemicals, he said.
The fire was still burning intensely at midday: flames were shooting 30 feet into the air and black plumes of smoke billowed into the air.
Bill Peters, California Department of Forestry spokesman, said “We’re not fighting it as of yet because of all the chemicals.”
The site, in the Cajon Pass, is a sparsely populated area about 15 miles north of San Bernardino. A hotel, a restaurant and a gas station were evacuated along with a few homes. Nearby Interstate 15, the main artery between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, was shut down in both directions.