LAFAYETTE, La. – About 3,000 residents were allowed to return home Sunday as crews continued to clean up hydrochloric acid that spilled when six train cars rolled off the tracks a day before.
A one-mile evacuation radius was cut to 1,000 feet from the accident site, said State Police Trooper Stephen LaFargue. He said the reduced area would affect only a few businesses, although the restrictions probably would not be lifted for a couple of days.
The Texas rail company that operated the train started an investigation Sunday. Joe Faust, a spokesman for BNSF Railway, said the company will hand over the results of the probe to the Federal Railroad Administration, he said.
"A thorough investigation will take place. It could take a while," Faust said.
Saturday's wreck spread a toxic cloud over Lafayette, a southern Louisiana city about 125 miles west of New Orleans. Five people, including two railroad workers, were sent to a hospital and treated after complaining of skin and eye irritation, State police Trooper David Anderson said.
Hydrochloric acid can cause respiratory problems and skin and eye irritation, Faust said.
The train had been headed to Lake Charles, near the Texas border, about 75 miles west of Lafayette, Faust said.
One of the six cars leaked the acid — an estimated 10,000 gallons, which formed a yellowish pool. Cleanup crews used lime to neutralize the acid and contractors for the rail company planned to dig out the material for disposal, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
By late Sunday, more than half of the acid had been removed, state police said.
All six rail cars were restored to an upright position, and some had been moved out of the 1-acre contamination site, Anderson said. "The stuff we're dealing with is bad — very bad stuff," he said.
A nursing home with 161 residents was evacuated, and about 35 of the residents were taken to area hospitals because they were too frail to be moved to other facilities, state officials said.
The Red Cross set up a shelter at a high school but no one was using it on Sunday, Anderson said. Most of those evacuated were moved in with family and friends, and about 52 families were put up in hotels by the rail company.
Faust said BNSF would reimburse evacuated residents for hotel and restaurant bills incurred during the evacuation. The company instructed evacuees to bring identification and receipts to the a ballroom inside the sports arena at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Amtrak's Sunset Limited from Los Angeles was detoured around Lafayette and arrived about 90 minutes late Sunday in New Orleans, said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole. Eleven passengers who had been bound for Lafayette and two other Louisiana stops were bused out of Houston, Cole said.