MOUNT CARBON, W.Va. — “I heard the explosions,” Smithers Mayor Thomas Skaggs recalled two years after a CSX train derailed and released thousands of gallons of Bakken crude oil into the Mount Carbon community.
Thursday marked the two year anniversary of the disaster.
On Feb. 16, 2015, hundreds of residents had to be evacuated after 27 tanker cars went off the track along state Route 61 and the Kanawha River, causing multiple explosions and fires. The incident lasted for 10 days. A house was destroyed and one person was injured.
Federal Railroad Administration officials said a broken rail from a vertical split caused the derailment. The broken rail was found under one of the burning tankers.
“People were scared. We all were,” said Montgomery Mayor Greg Ingram. “We didn’t know what happened.”
Montgomery and other surrounding towns had to close down its water supply. Residents also had to live without power and phone service. In Smithers, Skaggs said they stored 22 pallets of water for those in town.
“It’s something that you’re glad it’s over with and you remember back, but you hope it never happens again,” he said.
Skaggs said he was at Smithers City Hall at the time of the explosion.
“Our City Hall is right there behind the fire department and so them responding, you hear the radios — police officers, our chief was there — and then we kept hearing the explosions,” he said. “We actually went up there and saw the cars burning.”
Ingram did not hear the crash, but did see the sky light up.
“I live on the river and remember sitting in the chair and the sky lit up. I’m two miles from the accident site,” he explained. “The entire sky lit up like it was day light. That was my first indication that something wrong had happened.”
The FRA said the incident was preventable and that the split should have been detected months before.
This week, a Voluntary Remediation Agreement was reached between the Office of Environmental Remediation at the state Department of Environmental Protection and CSX Transportation, Inc.
According to the agreement, CSX will work with the DEP to identify human health and ecological risks associated with current and potential future uses of the derailment site, establish applicable remediation standards and ensure that standards are maintained at the site. A report will then be submitted to the DEP for approval.
Over the last two years, Ingram said Montgomery learned how to be a “first responder city.”
“If there’s any change between what we were two years ago and what we are now, we’re a little better prepared to respond to regional emergencies,” he said. “We know what it takes to lend a helping hand in time of need.”