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Evacuation in effect near oil train crash; sewer lines non-operational

Ashley Korslien

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Raw video: Flames, plumes pouring from oil train fire

MOSIER, Ore. -- As of Sunday afternoon, residents of Mosier still could not take showers, wash dishes or flush their toilets as a result of damage from an oil train derailment on Friday.

"Today's priority is focused on safely restoring essential services to the community of Mosier as soon as possible," said incident spokeswoman Judy Smith on Sunday. 

She said the flaming wreckage melted part of the sewage system and crews were working to repair that damage.  A boil water advisory was also in effect. 

The train was passing through the Columbia River Gorge near Mosier when it derailed Friday afternoon, igniting a fire and sending out large plumes of smoke. The fire was put out a little after 2 a.m. Saturday.

Union Pacific says 14 rail cars from the 96-car crude oil train derailed. The train was on its way to Tacoma, Washington from Eastport, Idaho.

An official with Union Pacific Railroad said Sunday that some kind of track failure was likely the cause of the derailment.

Officials say a light sheen of oil was observed about six feet offshore in the Columbia River at the mouth of Rock Creek. Responders deployed about 1,000 feet of containment boom. Environmental crews were working to identify and control the source of the sheen.

No one was hurt and no structures were lost, according to ODOT.

The train derailed at about 12:20 p.m. Friday. Interstate 84 was closed from The Dalles to Hood River until about 11 p.m. The closure was from Cascade Locks to The Dalles earlier in the afternoon. ODOT recommended that drivers use the Hood River Bridge as a detour and the toll was waived during the closure.

Photos: Train derailment in the Gorge

Residents within a quarter-mile of the crash were immediately evacuated when the train derailed. The evacuation was still in place Sunday afternoon as crews worked to cool down the cars and offload the oil from the remaining rail cars.

KGW's Pat Dooris reported Mosier residents were warned that a mandatory one-mile evacuation could be put in place at anytime. A boil water notice was also sent to Mosier residents.

A Red Cross shelter was opened in The Dalles for evacuees. The shelter at the Dry Hollow Elementary School was closed Saturday evening.

The derailment happened on a section of track that had recently been repaired by Union Pacific, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. An inspection in April found 31 minor issues that did not trigger violations. All issues were fixed, ODOT said. 

The train was carrying Bakken crude oil, which is more dangerous to ship than other oils because it can be more flammable. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is often used to harvest oil from the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota.  

Three cars caught on fire. At about 5 p.m. Friday, there was an explosion and the fire intensified.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway sent a foam truck to fight the fire. Portland Airport Fire & Rescue sent a specialized firefighting foam truck carrying about 1,300 gallons of fire suppression foam.

Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act to provide additional resources to crews fighting the fire.

"I am committed to making the necessary resources available to help keep the community of Mosier safe," Brown said in a press release.

She also praised first responders for their efforts. About 200 students were evacuated from an elementary and middle school near the scene.

Silas Bleakley was working at his restaurant in Mosier when the train derailed.

“You could feel it through the ground. It was more of a feeling than a noise,” he told The Associated Press as smoke billowed from the tankers.

Bleakley said he went outside, saw the smoke and got in his truck and drove about 2,000 feet to a bridge that crosses the railroad tracks.

There, he said he saw tanker cars “accordioned” across the tracks.

Another witness, Brian Shurton, was driving in Mosier and watching the train as it passed by the town when he heard a tremendous noise.

“All of a sudden, I heard ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ like dominoes,” he said.

He, too, drove to the bridge overpass to look down and saw the cars flipped over before a fire started in one of the cars and he called 911, he said.

“The train wasn’t going very fast. It would have been worse if it had been faster,” said Shurton, who runs a windsurfing business in nearby Hood River.

Related: Worst fears realized for Mosier residents with train wreck

Environmentalists reacted quickly to the accident and called it a reminder of why oil should not be transported by rail.

“Moving oil by rail constantly puts our communities and environment at risk,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in Eugene, Ore.

Matt Lehner, a spokesman from the Federal Railroad Administration, said a team of investigators from Vancouver headed to the scene.

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