Kentucky residents return home after toxic chemicals train derailment

Residents of a Kentucky town that was evacuated en masse after a train carrying hazardous materials derailed have now been told they can safely return home.

On the evening before Thanksgiving, residents in the small, remote town of Livingston in Kentucky were told to leave their homes after 16 cars on a 40-car CSX train derailed that afternoon.

Two of the cars were carrying molten sulphur and caught fire, releasing sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency in the county and an evacuation order was issued. Meanwhile, the US Route 25 was closed in both directions through Thursday.

After spending the Thanksgiving holiday eating a dinner supplied by the rail company in a local middle school and a church – and spending the night in the school hall or locals hotels – the roughly 200 residents of the town were able to return home.

CSX made the announcement on Thursday afternoon after the rail company and emergency officials spent hours putting out the fire.

Special air monitoring equipment was then used to determine that the area was safe for residents to return home.

Mr Beshear confirmed on X that the residents could spend the remainder of the holiday back in their houses.

“Thank you to the first responders who worked hard to put out the fire at the train derailment site in Rockcastle County,” he wrote.

“While there is still work to be done, we are thankful for the good news that our families in Livingston are able to spend the rest of Thanksgiving at home.”

An outreach centre has been opened in a local gymnasium to help families back into their homes.

From Sunday, CSX will also be reimbursing residents for any wage losses and out-of-pocket expenses caused by the incident – and will still be supplying food and lodging as needed.

Livingston residents were evacuated to a local middle school (WTVQ via AP)
Livingston residents were evacuated to a local middle school (WTVQ via AP)

Residents had previously spoken of their disappointment that they had to leave their homes for the holidays.

Linda Todd told WYMT she was in the middle of preparing her Thanksgiving feast for the next day when she was told to leave immediately by a local official.

“I was freaking out because I said, ‘We are cooking, we got turkeys in the ovens. We can’t leave.’ They were like, ‘You have to go, it is a bad situation. You have to go,’” she said.

Evelyn Gray, another resident, said she was instantly impacted by the toxic chemical when an official opened her back door to tell her to evacuate.

“As soon as he opened the back door to come in, the chemical hit me, and I had a real bad asthma attack,” Ms Gray told WTVQ-TV.

Sulphur dioxide can harm the human respiratory system, making breathing difficult and damaging the lungs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. People with asthma, particularly children, can be very sensitive to exposure.

Work crews are still clearing up the molten sulphur from the ground and shifting the derailed cars to restore the area completely.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation, CSX said in its latest statement.