Hundreds of people shut themselves in their homes for hours on Sunday and others stayed in emergency shelters after a train carrying hazardous chemicals rear-ended a coal train and burst into flames.
One train worker was killed and two others were injured late Saturday when an eastbound CSX Transportation freight train rammed an eastbound CSX coal train. Thirteen cars and two engines derailed.
Only a single tanker containing acetaldehyde was burning Sunday. The chemical, used in the manufacture of acetic acid, perfumes and synthetic rubber, can weaken the central nervous system. Officials said they would let it burn itself out.
The cause of the crash was human error or signal failure, said Mike Martino, of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Most residents in the area were allowed to return home - or emerge from their houses - Sunday afternoon after the air cleared and a road was reopened, firefighters said.
Many people had fled as flames, smoke and fumes filled Vintroux Hollow, and some went to hospital emergency rooms complaining of headaches and chest pains.
“We were waiting for a ball of fire to come in and get us,” said Beverly Post, comparing the explosion to scenes from the alien invasion movie “Independence Day.”
Some residents fled by creeping below thick smoke, and then had to crawl under railroad cars that blocked the only road.
MEMO: Changed in the Spokane edition