Disaster declared in train accident

Two homes razed as cleanup effort continues

BEDFORD — The Bedford County commissioners formally declared a disaster emergency Tuesday around the town of Hyndman, freeing officials in the area to respond more readily two weeks after a train derailment.

The commissioners voted to allow Hyndman Borough, Londonderry Township and the county Emergency Management Agency “to act as necessary to meet the current demands of the emergency” — hiring temporary workers, buying equipment and entering contracts without the typical formalities.

They followed the vote with a formal proclamation thanking community members and emergency responders for their work since the Aug. 2 CSX derailment that destroyed two homes, damaged several more and forced 1,000 people to leave the area for days.

“I can’t predict what our elected officials in Harrisburg and Washington are going to do (after the declaration). But I hope this will get their attention,” Emergency Management Director Dave Cubbison said. “We had no deaths in this, no injuries. God is good. But we have to look to the future.”

The cleanup process in Hyndman still isn’t complete, with workers salvaging wrecked cars after a long process to remove dangerous chemicals. Two houses were razed, a third is badly damaged and two more remain empty for now, officials said Tuesday.

The derailment — the cause of which remains under federal investigation — has highlighted longstanding safety concerns in the borough of roughly 800 people. Limited road access and nonexistent cellphone service, long topics of discussion in the rural area, proved dangerous after the crash.

Before the derailment, Hyndman residents and county officials had discussed the possibility that a stopped train could block all three road crossings that connect most of Hyndman, including its fire department, to the outside world.

Borough Emergency Management Coordinator Robert Walls said that was demonstrated just two months before the crash, when a stopped train blocked access to an unresponsive patient and forced backup responders to travel miles from Bedford. The same problem presented itself on Aug. 2, he said.

“We could not, for the first couple hours, get to the residents on the other side of town,” Walls said.

Compounding the problem was the almost total lack of reliable cellphone service for miles around Hyndman, which sits in a narrow valley between two mountain ridges. While residents elsewhere can be officially notified of evacuation by text or phone, the process was difficult in a town where cellphones don’t work.

CSX workers at the scene are still using a portable tower to communicate, Cubbison noted.

The cleanup is winding down, but damage to the town remains. CSX has made financial arrangements for new homes for those most seriously affected and has agreed to pay many government expenses incurred during the response, county officials said.

The new disaster declaration doesn’t open new funding sources or add agencies to the response, but it allows local officials to more easily take action during the cleanup, officials said Tuesday.

More changes will be necessary, Walls and Cubbison said — including a possible road overpass to end the threat of another train cutoff. The town’s only emergency backup road crossing the tracks is made of gravel, sits on a creek bed and is rendered useless after rain, they said.

While work remains and another disaster could happen, Cubbison and the commissioners applauded the responders from three states, the town’s residents and the volunteers who helped for days after the crash.

“At the worst time in their lives, the people came together,” Cubbison said. “And that’s a success story.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.