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WV train explosion emphasizes need for strong disaster management

An explosive rail accident in West Virginia led to a tough-to-extinguish fire that has yet to subside days after the incident, which occurred on Feb. 16. A tanker train carrying petroleum in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, exploded violently as it passed through the small town. Reuters said the explosion caused approximately 25 rail cars to leave the tracks. The exact cause of the explosion is as yet unknown, although there have been discussions about the speed of the train before the accident. The Federal Railroad Administration, which investigates major problems that occur on rail lines in the country, is also considering the potential of weather as a secondary factor.

"The accident occurred despite the use of advanced tank cars that meet a high safety standard."


A recent train fire in West Virginia caused significant problems for the surrounding area

Safer tank cars didn't stop the explosion
The Associated Press reported that the accident occurred despite the use of advanced tank cars that meet a high safety standard. These newer vessels were designed to be more effective at stopping spills and other catastrophic failures than previous versions. The West Virginia crash was the third of a small series of accidents that have occurred in the past 12 months where the newer tanks are in use. The recent spate of problems that have involved the new tanks is a potential issue for a variety of different businesses that are situated along railroad tracks where petroleum and other volatile chemicals are transported.

Mass evacuations, water contamination
While the explosion itself didn't cause nearly as much damage as it could have if closer to a more densely populated area, the secondary effects of a large, petroleum-fueled fire caused area residents to lose access to their homes, potable water and other necessities. Hundreds of people in the area were still unable to return to their homes two days after the initial explosion, according to Reuters. The more widespread evacuations that happened soon after the fire have ended, with many of the citizens of two nearby towns making their way back to their dwellings.

A need for awareness
The potential for major disruptions from the transportation of oil products and other hazardous materials is an important consideration for businesses with any kind of assets located near rail lines. With an increase in domestic production, more petroleum is transported inside the U.S. than before. Companies have to be aware of the need for effective crisis communications in a situation similar to the one in West Virginia, where the explosion's destructive force caused damage to local infrastructure and forced evacuations as well.


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