Local first responders prepared for train derailments

Local first responders prepared for train derailment
Published: Jul. 11, 2013 at 2:31 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2013 at 2:31 AM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The deadly Quebec train derailment could happen anywhere. While major disasters involving trains are few and far between, KPLC's Lee Peck reports local first responders are prepared to take action at a moments notice.

On any given day 25 to 30 trains travel through Southwest Louisiana.

"It's safe to assume most of those trains are carrying hazardous materials of some sort," said Dick Gremillion, Calcasieu Office of Emergency Preparedness Director.

Gremillion said -- though rare -- train derailments and explosions are something they prepare for.

"The rail companies, periodically will bring their tanker cars around so the first responders can look at the valves and get familiar with everything involved with them," explained Gremillion.

Gremillion said the last major derailment and explosion they assisted with was back in 2000, when more than 30 cars jumped the track from a Union Pacific train.

"There was a fire, there was an explosion, that fire burned for about 3 or 4 days over there and much of the town of Eunice had to be evacuated because of that," said Gremillion.

"When you backed off you could see the flames from here," said Pairlee Fontenot, Eunice resident.

Fontenot and her husband were among the nearly 2,000 Eunice residents forced to evacuate for more than a week.

"My husband was mowing the lawn and the policeman showed up and said we had to leave. My husband said let me finish washing my equipment ... and the officer said - no you have to leave now," recalled Fontenot. "It was very scare because my daughter and granddaughter were at the pool and also had to evacuate. We didn't know where we were going or how far we had to go."

When they were given the "all clear" to return home, Fontenot said the house was covered in black ash and everything in the garden was dead.

Fontenot said images from the deadly tragedy in Quebec are a reminder of the risk that is always there and how fortunate they are to have not suffered any deaths in 2000.

"It could have been really, really dangerous because of that flame you know it was high if you could see it from here - the explosion," said Fontenot.

While there is no stopping the trains or their hazardous cargo, experts say the risks are small.

"I will say this - rail is a very safe way of transportation. A train derailment is a very rare occurrence and most derailments don't result into something like you saw in Canada the other day, but it is still a possibility," said Gremillion.

And they'll continue to train for that possibility. Gremillion said OEP along with the GO Group plans to have an upcoming emergency drill involving trains.

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