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Crude Oil Blast “Could Have Been Right By My House”

PHOTO: A witness who had to flee Monday's huge train derailment and explosion in West Virginia says it has changed how he looks at rail shipment of crude oil. Photo courtesy Office of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
PHOTO: A witness who had to flee Monday's huge train derailment and explosion in West Virginia says it has changed how he looks at rail shipment of crude oil. Photo courtesy Office of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
February 20, 2015

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — A witness who fled Monday's train derailment and massive fire says he can't help but wonder now if he and his neighbors are safe from trains carrying crude oil.

Iraq War veteran Brandon Truman lives in Boomer, W. Va., directly across the river from where the tanker cars exploded, and next to a separate set of railroad tracks. He says after one blast, he felt the heat and the force on his skin - even on the other side of the wide Kanawha River. Truman says the mushroom cloud from that explosion reminded him of combat.

"They have 500-pound bombs they'd drop when we'd call them in. It was that big," says Truman. "That's what you think about afterwards - what's going to come through here next? If it had been on this side of the river, it would have been right by our house."

A day after the accident the fires were still burning, and casting off huge clouds of greasy, bitter smoke.

Truman and a group of his neighbors - most of whom also had to flee the previous day - stand in the snow and watch. He is tall, dressed in Army camouflage pants and a sweatshirt. Truman works in the natural gas industry, driving trucks carrying equipment, gas and sand in the Marcellus fields. He says his work makes him more aware.

And he doesn't think the railroad tank cars offer enough protection.

"There was supposed to be a new type of tanker that, if they do derail, there's more safety precautions and stuff like that," he says. "But obviously, you can't stop all of it. You never know what's going to happen, or what even caused it."

Truman says until something like this happens, people don't think about what they might be living next to, particularly in small towns and rural areas.

"They push the trains around the big cities into the smaller towns," he adds. "I know that it's got to go through, but the populace is taking the risk and not reaping any of the benefits."

The railroad companies say the voluntary upgrades they've made to oil tankers have added to their safety. But critics cite a series of accidents in their calls for greater precautions – including an explosive derailment and fire last April on the same line, which forced the evacuation of downtown Lynchburg, Va.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV