COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Exploding freight cars full of ethanol made for a dramatic early morning scene in Ohio's capital on Wednesday, but officials said the train derailment that led to a hurried evacuation of an urban neighborhood could have been much worse.
The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a 12-person team to investigate the derailment on the Norfolk Southern Corp. tracks, which led to spectacular explosions and the burning of three tank cars each carrying 30,000 gallons of ethanol. Nobody aboard the train was injured.
The NTSB expects to issue a preliminary report on the derailment in a month. The full investigation could take a year.
Officials said they don't know yet what caused the accident, which occurred at around 2 a.m. in an industrial area near Interstate 71, north of downtown. The explosions were felt for blocks and sent flames shooting high in the air.
NTSB board member Earl F. Weener said Wednesday night that the tankers are still burning. He said once they cool down, a chemical foam will be sprayed on them to prevent re-igniting and the remaining ethanol will be removed.
Two people were injured while walking on the tracks to investigate when a second explosion occurred. Officials said they went to the hospital themselves with minor injuries.
Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, who later Wednesday visited a temporary Red Cross shelter set up for evacuees, said the accident could have been worse if it had occurred in an area where more people lived.
"I'm grateful, in one respect as well, that this did not occur in a more populated area near more residents," he said. "It very well could have. A mile up or a mile south. North or south, east or west. It could have been tragic in other ways as well."