MARYVILLE, Tenn. — A local official said smoke quit rising Thursday afternoon from the site where a CSX train car carrying hazardous material derailed and caught fire in eastern Tennessee, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell said shortly before 6 p.m. that he and others had visited the site and the smoke had stopped.
Earlier, officials said firefighters had been unable to get close to the burning car because of the heat. Mitchell said there were also concerns that the fumes contained cyanide, a byproduct of burning the chemical acrylonitrile, which was leaking from the train car.
Officials said firefighters had been trying to hose down neighboring rail cars and keep them cool while also trying move them away from the flames.
The derailment late Wednesday prompted the evacuation of thousands of people within a mile-and-a-half radius.
The damaged car was carrying liquid acrylonitrile, which officials said is a hazardous material used in multiple industrial processes including making plastics. It's flammable and it's dangerous if inhaled. The EPA says some effects of breathing acrylonitrile include headaches, dizziness, irritability and rapid heartbeat.
Josh West, spokesman for Blount Memorial Hospital in Maryville, said 52 people had come in for treatment there as of 5 p.m. and that 25 had been admitted. He said some of the others were discharged and some remained in the emergency room for observation. He said none had life-threatening injuries but rather conditions like respiratory issues, skin irritation and nausea.
Ten first responders received hospital treatment after breathing fumes.
At a 4:30 p.m. news conference, CSX regional vice president for state government affairs Craig Camuso said authorities didn't know how much acrylonitrile was spewing out and burning or how much remained in the tank.
The fire was reported shortly before midnight Wednesday.
About 5,000 people in the area were evacuated, along with several businesses.
Mitchell asked residents near the derailment site not to drink well water for now. He said CSX will provide bottled water to residents at a local middle school.
Maryville City Manager Greg McClain added that there's no indication yet whether well water has been affected by the incident.
Kevin Eichinger, an on-scene coordinator with the EPA, said air, water and soil samples would be tested. He said early air testing Thursday indicated air quality "around background levels."
McClain advised evacuees to make plans to be away from home at least for Thursday night.
"We're doing our very best to get you back to your homes as soon as possible," he said.
On its Facebook page, the Blount County Sheriff's Office said early Thursday that the evacuations could last from 24 to 48 hours.
Camuso said the company is placing evacuees in hotels, will provide reimbursement and will provide gift cards for food and essentials to those who need them.
"We will continue to do that for as long as it takes," he said.
The train was traveling from Cincinnati to Waycross, Georgia.
Camuso said it had 57 cars and two locomotives, and that 27 cars carried hazardous chemicals: nine with acrylonitrile, 16 with propane and two with asphalt. He said the cause of the derailment is not yet known.
The Federal Railroad Administration said it had investigators and hazmat inspectors at the scene, and would investigate the cause once it's safe.
The National Transportation Safety Board is not investigating the accident, but will monitor it and could send an investigator later, NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said in an email.
In general, the transportation of hazardous materials in commerce is regulated federal law, which requires that hazmat shippers be registered, the material be properly classified, the handlers have preliminary hazmat training and that the material be labeled and held in proper containers, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration spokesman Gordon "Joe" Delcambre Jr. said in an email.
He said more than 1 million daily shipments of hazardous materials are moved across the nation by all modes of transportation.
A shelter for residents was set up at a local high school. Several residents there said they were not aware of the derailment until they got a call or someone knocked on their door early in the morning.
"We saw police going back and forth and emergency vehicles going back and forth on our road, but we didn't know why until about 3 to 3:30," Maryville resident John Trull said. "That's when they told us. We didn't hear anything (beforehand). We just saw some emergency vehicles go by and kind of wondered what was going on, and that's about it."
Brittany Parrott said she was awakened by a knock on her apartment door at about 4:30 a.m. Although she didn't hear the derailment, she said she noticed the effects of it as she went outside.
"You could smell it in the air," Parrott said. "I had a headache, I was feeling nauseated and lightheaded, all the symptoms."
Maryville is a town of nearly 30,000 people located about 20 miles south of Knoxville and just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Associated Press writers Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, and Rebecca Yonker in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.