Local hazmat crews prepared in case of train derailment

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A spokesman for Louisiana State Police says 26 of the 72-car train flipped off the tracks in Lawtell on Sunday. Three of the cars were leaking hazardous materials. That all adds up to more than 100 homes within a one-mile radius being evacuated.

State police call this a best-case scenario because the location is rural, meaning there are not a lot of people affected.

But what if this happened somewhere more populated, like downtown Baton Rouge?

"We know what we would do," said Richard Sullivan, with the Baton Rouge Fire Department Hazmat Unit. "We have a plan in place. We hope we don't have to use it, but there is a plan."

Sullivan says the last train derailment in Baton Rouge was downtown on May 30, 2005. A train went off the tracks in front of the River Center, knocking over a water fountain.

"When hazmat showed up they seen liquid running across the road...was just water out of the fountain," Sullivan said.

Out of caution, crews evacuated the River Center where bowlers were holding a national convention.

At any point, trains and even boats navigating the Mississippi River, are carrying dangerous chemicals through the city. While the potential for a similar derailment is possible, a spokesman for State Police says the response would depend on where something were to happen, as well as what chemical is involved.

Sullivan says his crew is able to recognize the chemical by looking at the type of train car and the number on it.

"Identify product, amount leaking and then at that point if evacuation is necessary or just shelter in place," he said. "We may ask everyone to stay inside."

Predicting these types of accidents is impossible, but both fire officials and police say if it happens their job is to work together to keep the public safe.

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