A freight train crashed into a rubbish lorry, derailed and caught fire in a Baltimore suburb, setting off an explosion that rattled homes at least a half a mile away and sent a plume of smoke into the air that could be seen for miles.
In the third serious derailment this month, the dozen or so rail cars, at least one carrying hazardous material, went off the tracks in Rosedale, a suburb east of Baltimore. A hazardous materials team responded, but Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz said that no toxic inhalants were being released. Officials did not order an evacuation.
By nightfall, the hazmat team had left, meaning there was no more danger posed from the chemicals in the rail car, said Baltimore County police captain Bruce Schultz.
The truck driver was in a serious condition, a hospital spokeswoman said. Two CSX workers aboard the train were not hurt.
Dale Walston said he lives about a half a mile away and that he thought he could smell chemicals. He said: "It shook my house pretty violently and knocked things off the shelves."
Even hours after the blast, the thick plume of black smoke could be seen for miles and had drifted and covered the eastern part of Baltimore.
CSX spokesman Gary Sease said that one of the cars was carrying sodium chlorate, which the Department of Transportation classifies as a hazardous material. However, Baltimore County Fire Chief John Hohman said the chemical was not in any of the cars that were still burning into the evening. The bleaching agent is used in making paper.
Nick Materer, an Oklahoma State University chemist, said sodium chlorate fumes can irritate the lungs if inhaled.
Two warehouses were heavily damaged by the explosion and other buildings suffered some damage, but none collapsed. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Railroad Administration were sending teams to investigate the crash of the 45-car freight train en route from Selkirk, New York, to Waycross, Georgia.
Robert Sumwalt, of the NTSB, said the accident occurred at a private crossing where the only marking was a stop sign. He said it was not clear why the truck was crossing the tracks or whether it was authorised to be there.