Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency Wednesday after a train derailed in Livingston and spilled chemicals that caught on fire, sending plumes of smoke into the air.
At least 16 cars of a southbound CSX train were involved in the derailment which happened at about 2:23 p.m. just north of the tiny town of 400 residents in Rockcastle County, CSX said.
Two of those train cars were carrying molten sulfur which leaked out during the derailment and ignited, according to the company. When molten sulfur burns, it often releases sulfur dioxide, which can be toxic.
Residents of Livingston and Piney Branch were encouraged to evacuate as the Rockcastle County judge/executive also declared a state of emergency for the county.
Officials went door-to-door urging people to leave the area, local CBS News affiliate station WKYT reported.
Many families were preparing for Thanksgiving when they were told about the evacuations.
They were ushered to Rockcastle County Middle School, where Red Cross officials transformed its gym into an emergency shelter with dozens of cots.
“It’s overwhelming, it’s scary, it’s unpredictable,” a woman at the gym-turned-shelter told the local news station. “We don’t know how long we’re gonna be here, what’s gonna happen. Our homes are empty. It’s [the] holidays. It just makes you wanna cry.”
CSX said it is deploying specialized equipment to monitor air quality in the area and is in close contact with Rockcastle County emergency officials.
The company also said it would cover the cost of hotels and restaurants for affected residents.
Beshear, meanwhile, said the statewide emergency order allows the state to activate resources like Kentucky Emergency Management and the Kentucky National Guard and deploy them to the county as needed.
“By issuing a state of emergency, we are ensuring that every state resource is available to help keep our families safe,” Gov. Beshear said in a statement. “Please stay clear of this area as state, local and CSX officials respond.”
US 25 is closed in both directions between the Laurel County line and Calloway Branch Road, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said.
One CSX crew member was treated at the scene of the derailment for minor injuries, according to WKYT.
Last winter, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents before authorities conducted a controlled burn.