Freight Trains Collide in South Carolina, Spilling Hazarous Materials; Killing One

GRANITEVILLE, S.C. (AP) -- A Norfolk Southern freight train carrying chlorine gas struck a parked train early Thursday, killing one person and injuring at least 70, authorities said. Decontamination sites were treating people exposed to fumes.

Seventy people have been treated for injuries at Aiken Regional Medical Center, said sheriff's Lt. Michael Frank. All but about 20 were released from the hospital, and some were admitted to intensive care, he said.

Frank did not give details of who was killed or how the victims were injured.

The wreck happened about 2:30 a.m. at an Avondale Mills facility in this textile town 13 miles northeast of Augusta, Ga.

National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Lauren Peduzzi said the agency will send investigators to the scene later Thursday.

Norfolk Southern previously said two crew members on the moving train had inhaled chlorine, and were taken to a hospital. Another of the injured people was a woman whose car had been hit by a tree felled by one of train cars. Her condition was unavailable.

No one was on the parked train, according to Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin Chapman.

Three of the 42 cars on the moving train were carrying chlorine, he said, but he didn't know how many of the cars were damaged. Chlorine gas can damage the throat, nose and eyes and can be fatal. Those who were exposed were told to report to decontamination units at two schools. Others in the area were told to stay inside their homes.

Two other hazardous materials, cresol and sodium hydroxide, were being carried on the train in liquid form, said Thom Berry, spokesman for the Department of Health and Environmental Control. Those materials are corrosive but only in direct contact, so they are of less concern than the chlorine gas. It's not yet known if either spilled.

More than a half-dozen textile plants operated by Avondale Mills in Graniteville and Warrenville were closed because of the wreck, Frank said. Four area schools also were closed.

Hazardous materials teams were trying to determine the condition of the car containing the gas, Berry said. Officials were securing the area before determining how much of the chemicals spilled, he said.

The gas was expected to dissipate as temperatures warmed during the day, Berry said.