Toxic Fear in Baltimore After Train Wreck

ByABC News
July 19, 2001, 3:39 AM

July 19 -- All roads into Baltimore were closed temporarily after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in a tunnel near the city's downtown area Wednesday afternoon, sparking a blaze that firefighters are still unable to approach.

"They've not been able to get into the tunnel," said Bob Murrow, spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works.

On Wednesday afternoon, the city's civil defense sirens screamed for the first time in 50 years. City officials shut portions of the city's bustling downtown area, including roads, highways, the commuter rail and the Inner Harbor, and urged residents to stay inside.

"We don't know what's involved in this particular fire," said Baltimore Fire Department battalion chief Hector Torres. "It's possible that hazardous material may still be involved and even though the smoke is lightening, we can still have toxins in that smoke."

An evening baseball game at Camden Yards was postponed by the accident.

Downtown Baltimore Remains Shut

While most major roads were reopened by 11 p.m. Wednesday, parts of the downtown area closest to the tunnel remain closed, and may be through the morning commute and possibly beyond as firefighters have been unable to get close enough to the blaze to battle it effectively.

Fire officials said the fire is too thick and hot inside the tunnel, and have turned to thermal imagining equipment for help determining just where in the 1 ½-mile tunnel the train is located. Officials said they expected to be battling the fire through the morning.

However, a water main break nearby may be helping.

"We think that the heat from the fire actually caused the water line to break," said Kurt Colker of the Baltimore Department of Public Works. "We decided to continue to let the water flow because it was helping fight the fire."

City Dwellers Told to Stay Inside

Torres said there were no evacuations, but people were being urged to stay inside and shut off any ventilation systems to prevent potentially hazardous smoke from invading homes.