After a train carrying more than 100 tankers filled with crude oil derailed in southern West Virginia on Monday, a fireball hundreds of feet high filled the sky.

“It was a little scary,” David McClung, who felt the heat a half mile away, told the Associated Press. “It was like an atomic bomb went off.”


An explosion erupting from a CSX Corp train derailment in Mount Carbon, W.Va. (Steve Keenan/Reuters)

Though just one person was treated for possible smoke inhalation, up to 17 of the tankers, owned by the railroad company CSX, caught fire in Mount Carbon. Cars and a house were engulfed by flames, and at least one tanker ended up in a river. West Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency, hundreds of families were evacuated from the area and two water treatment plants — at risk because of oil in the river — were shut down.


(Marcus Constantino/Reuters)

“I thought it was a snow plow,” Becky Nuckols, across the river in Boomer, W.Va., told the Associated Press. “That’s what made me look out. All you heard was a big boom.”

“CSX personnel and agencies are continuing their assessment to determine the number of cars derailed and resulting oil loss,” the company said in a statement. “The company is working to contain oil found in a creek that runs parallel to CSX tracks, and water utilities on the nearby Kanawha River are taking precautions. Fires around some of the cars will be allowed to burn out.”


(John Raby/AP)

The derailment is just the latest in the history of mishaps involving oil and other hazardous materials transported by rail. A derailment in Lynchburg, Va., in July, prompted renewed calls for greater regulation of how crude is shipped.  Another train carrying oil derailed in Ontario just two days ago.