Kansas Homes Evacuated After Toxic Spill

Two freight train cars derailed, causing a tanker to spill 30,000 gallons of highly flammable ethanol into a ditch and forcing the evacuation of about 50 homes, authorities said.

No injuries were reported in the Tuesday night incident.

The 17-car Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad (search) train was headed to Hutchinson from Wichita when two tankers and an empty grain car jumped the track in a residential neighborhood, said Jim Wineland, general manager of the K&O.

One of the tankers tipped, spilling the ethanol into a water-filled ditch, said Scott Jones, police chief for South Hutchinson (search). Crews were sent in early Wednesday to upright the other derailed car, which had not spilled its load.

Evacuees were being housed in a church, and classes at a nearby elementary school were canceled Wednesday. Nearby businesses and government offices were expected to remain closed.

"Our biggest concern is that this denatured alcohol doesn't find an ignition source," Jones said. "It's obviously very flammable."

A hazardous material team and firefighters were at the scene Wednesday, Jones said. He said sand and foam were poured onto the spill to help prevent the ethanol from igniting.

"When we first approached," he said, "the smell was pretty strong."

Officials said it could be evening before evacuees could return to their homes. They were being escorted back briefly, one family at a time, to get belongings needed for the day.

Jones said he didn't know what caused the derailment.

The K&O is a shortline railroad, owned by Pittsburg-based Watco Cos. (search) It began operation in 2001 on 900 miles of track in south-central and western Kansas.

South Hutchinson is about 47 miles northwest of Wichita, and has a population of 2,500.