WASHINGTON - More than 5,000 people were evacuated from their homes after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in Tennessee overnight and spectacularly caught fire, firefighters and officials said Thursday.
The train derailed just before midnight Wednesday near Maryville, close to the city of Knoxville, carrying acrylonitrile, a highly flammable and toxic substance that poses respiratory risks, firefighter Kermit Easterling said.
Local media said that 25 people had been admitted to Blount Memorial Hospital for exposure to the chemical but none were thought to be critically ill.
Firefighters went door to door wearing breathing equipment to get people away from the fire, Easterling added, with residents living within a two-mile radius (three kilometers) ordered to evacuate.
A Red Cross shelter was set up at a local school for evacuated residents, the firefighter said.
Train operator CSX said it was aiding relief efforts and that a probe into the accident had been launched.
"CSX continues to work with first responders, relief agencies including the Red Cross, and health and environmental officials in Maryville, Tenn., after a tank car derailed and caught fire," it said in a statement.
"Earlier today, residents on wells in the vicinity of the derailment were advised by local authorities not to drink the water pending further assessments. Air monitoring is under way, and water monitoring is being established." The train was en route from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Waycross, Georgia at the time.
"First responders ordered an evacuation of a two-mile radius, which remains in effect," it added.
"The product in the tank car continues to burn, making it unsafe to set up any transfer operation. The cause of the derailment is under investigation by the company and officials of the Federal Railroad Administration." The train was made up of two locomotives and 57 cars: 45 loaded and 12 empty.
Acrylonitrile is used in a variety of industrial processes including the manufacture of plastics.
Other products on the train included pulpboard, corn, lumber and scrap paper, CSX said.