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Evacuees from Kentucky Forced to Spend Thanksgiving Away from Home as Uncertain Future Looms Following Derailed Train Chemical Spill

People impacted by train derailment in Ohio sit down for Thanksgiving dinner

People impacted by train derailment in Ohio sit down for Thanksgiving dinner


Cindy Bradley had just finished cooking for Thanksgiving when an official knocking loudly urged her to leave her small Kentucky home as soon as possible because a train had derailed, catching fire and spilling chemicals.

She ended up at Rockcastle County Middle School in Livingston — unsure what was next as at least two train cars containing potentially harmful chemicals continued to burn Thursday. 

“She says, ‘You’re evacuated, there’s 12 to 14 cars in the river, you have to get out of here,'” Livingston resident Cindy Bradley told CBS affiliate WKYT-TV from the emergency shelter. “We said, ‘What about Thanksgiving?'”

This image taken from video and provided by WTVQ shows people sitting at a table at Rockcastle Middle School being used as an evacuation center in Mt Vernon, Ky., Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. 

/ AP

The CSX train derailed around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday near Livingston, a remote town with about 200 people in Rockcastle County.

Two of the 16 cars that derailed carried molten sulfur, which caught fire after the cars were breached, CSX said in a statement. One member of the two-person train crew was treated at the scene for minor injuries, according to WKYT, and Kentucky emergency management officials said no one was hospitalized. 

Livingston resident Linda Todd told WKYT that she was “freaking out” about being told to leave while in the middle of preparing Thanksgiving dinner. 

“I’m like, ‘We’re cooking, we have turkeys in the oven, we can’t leave,” Todd said. 

Crews were still working to extinguish the fire Thursday morning, the company said. WKYT reported that the fire was 50% contained as of 8 a.m. Thursday, according to Rockcastle County Judge-Executive Howell Holbrook. 

It’s believed that the fire is releasing sulfur dioxide, but officials have not released results of measurements taken from air monitoring equipment that was being deployed Wednesday night. WKYT reported that officials hope to have the fire contained by the end of Thursday. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency website, sulfur dioxide can cause respiratory problems, depending on the concentration and length of exposure. The gas is commonly produced by burning fossil fuels at power plants and other industrial processes, the EPA says. The American Lung Association said long-term exposure to the chemicals can be especially hazardous to children, the elderly and those with asthma.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency in the county, assuring crews all the help from the state they need. He asked the public to keep in mind the emergency workers and people forced to spend Thanksgiving away from home. 

“Please think about them and pray for a resolution that gets them back in their homes. Thank you to all the first responders spending this day protecting our people,” the governor said in a statement Thursday.

CSX promised to pay the costs of anyone asked to evacuate, including a Thanksgiving dinner. Emergency officials told WKYT that they could not confirm when the state of evacuation would be lifted. 

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