Freight Train Derailment Sparks Evacuation Near Arizona-New Mexico Border

Freight Train Derailment Sparks Evacuation Near Arizona-New Mexico Border

A freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed near the Arizona-New Mexico border, sparking a large fire and prompting a significant evacuation effort. The incident occurred on Friday afternoon at approximately 1:45 p.m. MT near Manuelito, New Mexico, according to officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Preliminary reports from the NTSB indicate that at least 22 train cars derailed, including multiple propane tank cars. Two of these tank cars caught fire, creating thick plumes of black smoke visible in the area. Fortunately, no injuries were reported as a result of the derailment and subsequent fire.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has taken the lead in investigating the incident, with support from the NTSB. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed that FRA investigators responded to the scene promptly on Friday, and a team of NTSB investigators is expected to arrive on Saturday to document the scene and examine the train and equipment.

The train was transporting a combination of gasoline and non-odorous propane, according to statements from New Mexico State Police. This hazardous cargo posed significant challenges for emergency responders as they worked to contain the blaze and mitigate potential environmental impacts.

BNSF Railway, the freight railroad responsible for the train, issued a statement acknowledging the incident and affirming their commitment to safely clearing the site. However, the cause of the derailment remains under investigation.

The derailment had immediate consequences for transportation in the region, with part of Interstate 40 and the railway track temporarily closed. Amtrak service between Albuquerque and Los Angeles was suspended until the affected track could be reopened, leaving passengers stranded.

In response to the evacuation efforts, the Apache County Sheriff's Office in Arizona, along with other agencies, expanded evacuation orders to encompass a two-mile radius around the derailment site. This evacuation order affected parts of the Navajo Nation, prompting officials to urge residents to prioritize their safety and cooperate with emergency personnel.

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren expressed concern for the affected communities and emphasized the importance of following evacuation orders to ensure everyone's safety. Although emergency crews deemed the risk of immediate danger to be low, precautionary measures, including evacuations, were implemented to safeguard residents.

Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs and Representative Ruben Gallego both voiced their concerns about the incident, pledging support for affected communities and readiness to deploy resources as needed. Buttigieg also underscored the importance of interagency coordination to address the situation effectively.

For stranded passengers like Michael Chupco, the derailment had significant personal consequences. Chupco, among several Amtrak passengers stranded in Albuquerque, expressed frustration at the prospect of waiting several days for the next available train.

"I'm stuck three days out here on the street," Chupco lamented to ABC Albuquerque affiliate KOAT. "I'm 68 years old. I can't handle living on the street."

As investigations into the cause of the derailment continue, residents, officials, and emergency responders remain vigilant, prioritizing safety and coordination in their efforts to address the aftermath of this incident.

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