GAINFORD, Alta. — Nearly 100 residents were forced from their homes Saturday after a CN train derailment caused fireballs to shoot into the sky and set off a state of emergency west of Edmonton.
Evacuee Elain Hughes said she was awakened by a blast at about 1 a.m. and saw a “big ball of fire” outside her bedroom window near Gainford, about 86 km west of Edmonton.
Warren Chandler, spokesman for CN Rail, said 13 cars derailed — nine of them contain liquefied petroleum gas and the others are packed with crude oil.
The cause of the derailment is still unknown, said Chandler, but investigations by CN, Parkland County Fire Department and the Canadian Transportation Safety Board are underway.
At the time of the crash, a voluntary evacuation order was issued to surrounding residents but by later in the day a state of emergency was declared and all remaining residents of Gainford were asked to leave their homes. An evacuee centre was set up at nearby Entwistle where officials said a total of 90 people ended up checking in.
Evacuees who couldn’t find friends or relatives to stay with were put up in nearby hotels and told to be prepared to be out of their homes for up to two days.
By early afternoon, fire from the derailment and explosion continued to burn and plumes of thick, black smoke could be seen from the Hwy. 16 where cars were being re-routed around the area.
Cheryl Cascegna said she heard the derailment but it wasn’t until hours later that the shock set in.
“We left this morning to go get milk and we couldn’t get back in,” said Cascegna, who showed up at the evacuation centre in Entwistle with little more than her two young children.
“We’re not prepared. I don’t even have diapers,” she said.