Shelter-in-place orders lifted, West Point still under evacuation

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Injured worker released from hospital, fire still burning

By Marty Finley

The five-mile shelter-in-place restriction established following a fire at a train derailment site in southwest Jefferson County has been lifted, said Jody Johnson Duncan, spokeswoman for Louisville EMA/MetroSafe, around 4 p.m. Thursday. Air restrictions also were lifted Thursday evening.

Duncan said evacuation orders are still in place within a 1.2-mile radius of the fire. A full evacuation of West Point was ordered on Wednesday because of the lingering threat of air contaminants. But Bobby Thompson, a disaster volunteer for the American Red Cross, said some have refused to leave their homes in the northern Hardin County town. Thompson said officials are not forcing residents to leave, but once they leave they cannot return until the order is lifted.

Residents were briefly allowed to return to their homes for medicine, pets and extra clothes between noon and 1 p.m. Thursday, Thompson said. Emergency officials have set up checkpoints to keep people out of the city following the evacuation.

The Red Cross established a temporary shelter at Muldraugh Elementary School, and Thompson said 39 people stayed at the shelter overnight Wednesday.

Thompson said the school is equipped for long-term use as a shelter if needed. Hardin County Animal Control established a pet shelter in the facility away from displaced residents for health reasons.

Duncan said a railcar continued to burn Thursday afternoon and officials were cooling the cars with water. A lingering concern is the fire’s proximity to two cars containing hydrogen fluoride. Ron Dodson, director of the Meade County Emergency Management Agency, said the chemical compound is not flammable but there is a fear that the cars could overheat and explode, which would release the chemicals into the air and endanger lives. Dodson said officials are spraying the cars with water to keep them cool. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hydrogen fluoride can burn lung tissue and cause swelling and fluid accumulation in the lungs. Skin exposure can lead to severe burns and skin ulcers, according to the CDC.

The fire ignited from residual traces of 1,3 butadiene in the air after it was removed from derailed railcars following an accident Monday that derailed 13 cars of a 57-car Paducah-and-Louisville Railway train near the Ohio River Dragway. Duncan said officials have pinpointed that an acetylene torch used by workers caused the blaze. The air was not stable enough for the torch’s use, she said.

Three injured contractors were transported to University Hospital in Louisville. One was listed in critical condition while another was classified as serious Thursday. The third has been released, Duncan said. Officials originally reported that all injured workers were R.J. Corman contractors, but P&L officials said Thursday the discharged patient was one of its contractors.

Two more contractors were injured but refused treatment.

U.S. 31W remains closed near West Point. Motorists can access alternate routes by logging on to www.511.ky.gov. Northbound motorists planning to travel U.S. 31W toward Louisville should use Ky. 313 to merge onto Interstate 65. US 31W is restricted to local traffic north of U.S. 60, according to the website.