October 19, 2013 - 9:59 AM
GAINFORD, Alta. - Emergency crews were battling a massive fire Saturday after a CN tanker train carrying oil and gas derailed west of Edmonton overnight.
Thirteen cars — four laden with petroleum crude oil and nine carrying liquefied petroleum gas — came off the tracks around 1 a.m. local time in the hamlet of Gainford, about 80 kilometres from the provincial capital, authorities said.
Three cars containing gas were leaking and on fire, said CN spokesman Louis-Antoine Paquin.
Witnesses said they heard an explosion at about 1 a.m. and officials said there was another blast around 9 a.m.
"It's still leaking, so there is that risk of explosion," said Carson Mills, spokesman for Parkland County, which includes Gainford.
"It's still a risky situation so we need to contain as much as possible and keep people far away."
The area is under a state of emergency and the community of roughly 100 has been evacuated, he said. Travel has been restricted and news media were being kept about 20 kilometres from the scene.
No injuries had been reported.
One resident told CHED radio that he heard a series of crashes moments before seeing a "huge, huge fireball" shoot into the sky.
"The fireball was so big, it shot across both lanes of the Yellowhead (Highway) and now both lanes of the Yellowhead are closed and there's fire on both sides," said the witness, identified only as Duane.
Devon Cadwell, who lives on a ranch just outside Gainford, said he was sleeping when he heard the noise. He gathered his animals into a corral and got ready to leave.
"It was a huge boom and the house started shaking," Caldwell said.
Paquin said the train was travelling to Vancouver from Edmonton.
Gainford resident Glenda Madge said she and her husband were jolted awake at 3 a.m. by pounding on their door. It was the fire department telling them they had to get out immediately.
"They were waiting outside for us, so we had to hurry up and get dressed and grab whatever we could — medication that my husband is on," Madge said, speaking by phone from a hotel in Entwistle about 20 minutes' drive from Gainford.
Madge said that when she reached an evacuation centre in Entwistle, she and her neighbours were talking about events earlier this year in Lac Megantic, Que., where a train derailment and explosion killed 47 people.
"It was a little scary," Madge said, noting she felt lucky that no one appeared to have been hurt in this derailment.
At one point, Madge said officials were going to allow residents to be escorted back to their homes to pick up additional medication and pets. But she said after the second explosion they were told to turn around and go back to Entwistle.
Sara Jensen, the community development co-ordinator with Parkland County, said about half a dozen Gainford residents were being taken back to the community and were in a safe zone when the second blast was heard.
Parkland County said it appears the evacuees will be out of their homes for at least the next 24 hours.
The Transportation Safety Board was sending investigators to the scene.
Jensen said people in Entwistle got up early to open restaurants for the evacuees. A gas station was also opened early so Mounties and other emergency officials could get fuel.
"It's a good rural environment where people support each other," Jensen said.
"Everyone's either in bed or being fed."
Mills noted that it was in Parkland County that more than 40 cars of a CN Rail train derailed in 2005, spilling 800,000 litres of bunker oil and wood preservative into Wabamun Lake.
Image Credit: Supplied, Parkland County
News from © The Canadian Press, 2013