PHOTO: Railroad workers walk around a large pile of coal that spilled out of one of the derailed cars. (C. Todd Sherman). Visit the Djournal.com Photo Gallery for additional photos of the train derailment.
BY DANZA JOHNSON
SHERMAN – Crews were expecting to work all night to remove the wreckage of a derailed train carrying tons of coal through Sherman Tuesday, while officials searched for clues to the cause of the accident.
No one was injured from the wreck, according to the company that was shipping the coal, Burlington Northern Santa Fe. The train was heading south to Birmingham.
More than 100 workers chipped away at the large task of removing the wreckage of the 44 derailed cars from the tracks and the mounds of coal that spilled onto the streets. There were 110 tons of coal per car on the train, which was carrying a full load, said Joe Faust, the regional director of public affairs for Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
“I was standing at my kitchen sink, and I heard an awful roaring. I said, ‘That’s nothing but a train wreck.’ It scared me to death,” said Earnestine Jolly, 80, a Sherman resident who lives near the tracks.
The accident took place around 11:10 a.m. The train has a maximum speed of 60 mph and was going 40 mph at the time of the accident, Faust said.
“We don’t know the cause of the accident and it is still under investigation,” he said. “Three companies from Memphis have come in to assist in the clean up. There will be a complete investigation to see what happened here.”
Pontotoc County Emergency Manager Ricky Jagger was one of the first people on the scene. Because coal ignites easily, Jagger said, the people who lived in the area could have been in danger. That the wreckage lay only about 15 feet from a 30,000-gallon tank of propane, which is owned by Rebel Gas, heightened concern.
“We had to come in to see if people should be evacuated,” said Jagger. “If this stuff ignites then it could be bad news.”
The deafening sound of the crash shook the small town the town of about 540 people on the Lee, Pontotoc and Union county lines like an earthquake. The actual derailment took place in Pontotoc County. Clouds of black soot could be seen miles in front of the crash site.
One man said it sounded like someone was dropping bombs. Another said he thought the gas tank had exploded.
Sherman residents are not strangers to train wrecks however. Pontotoc County Sheriff Leo Mask said several incidents involving trains have happened at the very spot where the tons of coal were laying.
“We’ve had several train wrecks and derailments in this area,” said Mask. “Some cars have been hit by trains and some have just ran off the tracks. I can say that this one is by far the worst I’ve seen.”
Mask said he was expecting a two-day cleanup. BNSF officials did not now how long it would take and how many train routes would have to change.
When workers arrived, many of them were shocked by what they saw. Some commented that they’d never seen anything like it. Some just wanted to know how they were going to get the mess cleaned up in two days.
The mangled cars looked like crushed soda cans floating in black water. The waist-deep hills of coal were spread all around the wreckage. Workers cutting away at the wreckage had to carefully trudge through the slopes of coal, and many of them lost their balance.
Shortly after 3 p.m. the first car was cut from the track and moved to the street.
Daily Journal reporter Danza Johnson can be reached at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org