Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said late Sunday that chemicals were leaking from a train carrying flammable and corrosive materials that derailed Sunday afternoon and forced the evacuation of around 100 homes.
The evacuated homes were within one mile of the derailment and remained empty as of Monday. Police said at least 26 cars on the 76-car train went off the tracks about 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Lawtell, which is about 60 miles west of Baton Rouge.
"Anytime you have chemicals leaking into the environment, that's a serious issue," Jindal said, according to KATC-TV. "Nobody knows the extent of the damage. We'll get that in the next 24 hours."
Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza told the Associated Press that one train car is leaking sodium hydroxide, which can cause injuries or even death if it is inhaled or touches the skin. The other is leaking lube oil. A third car carrying vinyl chloride was damaged, but was not leaking.
Master Trooper Daniel "Scott" Moreau told AP that the leaks were contained and the amount of chemicals being leaked was so small that air pollution detectors have not picked up anything. One person who was near the derailment went to the hospital complaining of eye irritation.
The railroad company doesn't know what caused the derailment. Espinoza said the railroad ties were renewed in 2011 and the track was inspected about three hours before the accident.
KATC reported that US Route 190 would be closed for at least two days while police assessed the damage and the environmental impact of the derailment.
St. Landry Parish President Bill Fontenot told AP that evacuated residents could go a theater the local government owns if they needed a place to stay. The Delta Grand Theater has no fixed seating, so cots can be easily set up, he said.
"I think we've got about 30 individuals there now. Some are still trying to find relatives or friends" to stay with, he said late Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report