Wait nearly over for evacuees from S. Illinois train derailment

Thursday, February 13, 2003

TAMAROA, Ill. -- The command post for the clean up of a train derailment that spilled hazardous chemicals in Tamaroa moved closer to the accident site Wednesday, a sign that the remaining 800 evacuees may soon be allowed to return home.

"It's a symbolic move in part," said Mike Chamness, acting director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

"We hope to send a message of reassurance to people that we're going to drink the same water and breathe the same air that they are."

The command post was relocated to an area about one mile west of the spot where a 21-car Canadian National-Illinois Central freight train derailed Sunday morning while traveling through Tamaroa.

Until that move, federal, state and local personnel had been coordinating cleanup efforts from nearby Du Quoin.

The train was carrying methanol, vinyl chloride, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde, each either flammable or toxic if not handled correctly.

Tests have shown that the air in the neighborhood as well as the groundwater and soil have been unaffected by the wreck.

Because of the fear of a chemical fire or other toxic disaster, the accident prompted the evacuation of everyone within three miles of the town of 800 people. About 200 people were allowed to return home Tuesday after the evacuation zone was reduced to a one-mile radius.

Officials said the evacuees were allowed to return after the removal of flammable vinyl chloride from a damaged tanker.

Roughly 800 evacuees remained in temporary housing such as a Red Cross shelter, motel rooms or the homes of friends or relatives. They will be able to return home once officials complete the removal of the hazardous chemicals, fill in the site with clean soil and lay new tracks, Chamness said.

"When that's done, the six or seven cars that contained chemicals but were not damaged will be taken out of Tamaroa," he said. "Hopefully by today we can shrink the evacuation zone and let the rest of the people go back home."

Chamness added that some residents are worried about contamination, so officials are conducting random tests of homes and honoring specific requests for those with particular health concerns.

Though there have been no reports of looting, the Illinois State Police and local authorities are patrolling the seven roads leading into Tamaroa around the clock to appease concerned residents, Chamness said.

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