DUPO, Il. (KMOV.com) -- A federal investigation is underway to find the cause of a train derailment and fire in Dupo that caused evacuations of nearby neighborhoods and schools Tuesday.
14 cars jumped the track and touched off a huge fire that burned for hours. No one was hurt but the quick work of firefighters avoided a potentially catastrophic situation.
One of the cars was carrying a flammable liquid solvent called methyl isobutyl ketone. Not only did that spark a massive fire at the site of the crash, but some of the flammable chemical went down a storm drain that empties out into a drainage ditch right by the Vertex-Hawkins chemical plant, and a second fire broke out. The second fire was most troubling, as it was right near a facility housing containers of chlorine and other chemicals.
Plumes of smoke could be seen for miles, and emergency responders acted quickly to get residents out of harm’s way.
Tabitha Williamson looked out her front door at the Union railyard across the street and saw the inferno. Moments later a police officer was telling her to evacuate.
“They said whatever was down there was possibly going to explode," she said.
Firefighters focused their attention on the fire by the chemical plant, which was doubly dangerous because there's also a buried gas line nearby.
Firefighters were concerned the pipe could melt, leading to a natural gas fire.
"Basically a cop knocked on the door and said, ‘You got to get out.’ Gave no detail or nothing. My wife was just in the back in the pool," said resident Eric Johnson.
Thanks to the efforts of dozens of agencies that responded, no one was hurt.
“They were actually able to stop it from causing a cascading event," said Herb Simmons with the St. Clair County Emergency Management.
Pumps are now running to aerate the water in a retention pond into which the chemicals drained. Authorities said clean-up could take two weeks. But longtime neighbors of the railyard are wondering what went wrong.
"They only go about 5 or 10 miles an hour how in the world could they derail and it be that bad?" said Williamson.
The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the derailment to determine a cause. The agency doesn’t release preliminary findings, and some investigations can take up to nine months.