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Ky. evacuation indefinite as chemical tanker burns

Associated Press Modified: November 2, 2012 at 11:31 am •  Published: November 2, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Hundreds of people will remain forced from their homes indefinitely as a massive effort continued Friday to move derailed train cars filled with hazardous materials away from a car holding chemicals that continued to burn for a third day, officials said.

"If we let them in prematurely, and God forbid had a catastrophic event ... that would be serious. There could be loss of life," said Vincent Smith, chief of the Pleasure Ridge Park fire department in southwest Louisville. The fire is burning at the site of a derailment that occurred Monday but took a dangerous turn Wednesday when workers using a blow torch ignited the chemical butadiene from one of the derailed cars.

Officials said the butadiene fire was under control and they would not try to extinguish it until derailed cars around it are removed from the area, a delicate process that could take days.

"We do not want to put the fire out in the butadiene tank until we get everything else away from it," said Dave Goldsmith, a commander with Louisville's hazmat team. " ... Until then, we're not going to put that fire out. It's safer to let it burn as it is right now."

Of particular concern are two cars sitting atop each other containing hydrogen fluoride that are a mere 10 feet from the burning butadiene.

Butadiene, a chemical commonly found in rubber used to make tires, can damage the central nervous system and reproductive system. Hydrogen fluoride is a corrosive chemical that can cause severe respiratory damage.

Three workers using the torch when the chemical ignited had been told the area was safe, officials said. Two remained hospitalized Thursday, one in critical condition.

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