Hyndman residents making return
Most coming back after train derailment forced them from homes for days
HYNDMAN — On Saturday afternoon, when most of the approximately 900 residents of this borough in southwestern Bedford County could return to their homes after being evacuated Wednesday following a 32-car train derailment, Assistant Fire Chief Joe Dwire talked about good luck.
Given that the derailment set fire to a propane tanker and to molten sulphur from another tanker, and that the accident destroyed a home, knocked another off its foundation and burned down a garage, it was “unbelievable” no one was even hurt, said Dwire, standing outside the Hyndman Volunteer Fire Department station.
The lone casualty was a German shepherd in the yard of the house that was destroyed, Dwire said.
When he arrived at the derailment scene after the 5 a.m. accident from his home outside the borough, the sky was glowing orange, he said.
“Almost like a bomb went off,” he said. “Like a war zone.”
Another firefighter, a recent high school graduate who lived just across the tracks from the main part of town, near the derailment, was nearly a victim, according to Dwire.
That firefighter was outside preparing to help family members get away and trying to figure out how he himself could get across the tracks to the station, when gas from the propane tanker ignited, Dwire said.
There was a “whoomp” — the kind that would happen if you threw a cup of gasoline on a fire — and the concussion knocked them to the ground, Dwire said.
Fortunately, there was no full-scale explosion of the tanker, he said.
Not far away, Manford Emerick was sleeping at his house on Schellsburg Street.
He awoke to the “train shaking and carrying on, and all at once, boom.”
He jumped up, went downstairs, looked out the window and saw flames from a car burning maybe 30 feet high.
“It was a big scare,” he said, sitting on a bench in the cafeteria of the Hope for Hyndman Charter School, where CSX Corp., the railroad company, has set up an Outreach Center.
When he saw the flames, he didn’t know what to do, so he called his daughter, who came and got him from her house across town — after which they went to his granddaughter’s house in Fossilville, about four miles away, Emerick said.
The burning propane sounded like a jet engine roaring, said Dwire and firefighter Shane Torbet, who was sitting on the bumper of a fire engine parked Saturday at the Hyndman Rescue Squad station.
Alternatively, the noise was like a torch when you turn on the gas, Dwire said.
In the immediate aftermath of the derailment, firefighters feared to apply water, not knowing what was in the cars, Torbet said.
So they went door-to-door to begin evacuations, until the arrival of the regional hazardous materials expert for CSX.
Essentially, CSX let the fires burn out, though workers added liquid nitrogen to the propane tanker so it would burn quicker, Torbet said.
Residents were given permission to return home by noon Saturday, after air tests showed there was no danger, according to officials.
Many converged on the Outreach Center, including Harold and Sharon Emerick.
They had spent Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night at the Holiday Inn Express in Cumberland, Md.
“It was very nice,” Sharon said.
CSX and the American Red Cross did what they could to accommodate evacuees, Harold said.
“They kept us informed,” he said. “We were not in a blind.”
CSX paid for their rooms and for all their meals, Harold said.
The evacuees were given a list of several nearby restaurants — including Hoss’s and Hobo’s, where they didn’t need to pay, he said.
The railroad company seemed to care about the residents, “not just their own thing,” he said.
Sharon didn’t go as far as to affirm they actually saved money by not having to pay for food during the evacuation.
“We didn’t run ourselves out of our homes,” she said.
Still, company officials “tried their best,” answering questions and finding others who could do so when they couldn’t, Harold said.
Taunia, a borough resident who declined to give her last name, wasn’t as happy about her situation, having discovered when she got home Saturday that her water heater — which provides hot water not only for washing, but for heating her home — had broken and leaked half its contents in her one-story house.
She plans to check into whether she can make a claim with CSX, based on the presumption that if she’d been home as usual, she could have minimized damage by shutting the heater off immediately.
CSX and contract workers were still at the derailment site Saturday, in a neighborhood where about 30 residents will remain shut out of their homes for another week or 10 days — not because of continued fire or environmental risk — but because of danger from “noisy and disruptive” heavy equipment moving in a small area, said CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle.
CSX was trying to arrange short-term housing for them, probably in hotels — although the residents were allowed to return with escorts Saturday to check their homes and gather possessions, according to Doolittle and another official.
CSX plans to cover all the costs incurred by residents due to the derailment, according to Doolittle.
Some of those residents were at the Outreach Center on Saturday filling out claim forms for food, housing and lost wages, according to a company spokesman.
Doolittle couldn’t say whether the railroad company would end up paying costs incurred by agencies like the state police, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Environmental Protection.
The cause of the derailment remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, and the company isn’t speculating, Doolittle said.
Sisters Missy Dague and Michelle Wisnewski, who also came to the Outreach Center, lauded the town’s first responders, who stayed to support CSX and contractors the company hired.
Wisnewski’s husband David, a member of the Hyndman Rescue Squad, and son Daniel, a member of the fire department, were among those who stayed.
One potential benefit from the accident could be cellphone service, the sisters hope — due to the attention the accident focused on its absence in town.
Or near absence, said Wisnewski, who said you can sometimes get a connection if you go to the middle of a certain field, hold your phone aloft and stand on one leg.
Reportedly, anyway, she said, demonstrating.
Borough resident Glenn Divelbiss was one of six residents who didn’t leave.
A state trooper knocked on his door about two hours after the derailment and recommended it, but said he didn’t think it was mandatory.
Divelbiss stayed because of his dog, Lucky, a 17-year-old Irish wolfhound, whose continued existence “astonishes” the veterinarian.
Irish wolfhounds are elderly as early as age 7, said Divelbiss, who feared his beloved pet wouldn’t handle a move well.
Divelbiss works at a ballistics facility, and is familiar with explosives, and
didn’t believe the materials in the derailed cars posed a threat to him, anyway — especially as he lived a fair distance from the derailment site.
Other residents he’s spoken to, especially those who encountered officials on the street, believed the evacuation was mandatory, Divelbiss said.
Divelbiss remained indoors, so as not to risk being ordered to leave, and so as not to flaunt his decision to buck the recommendation.
Divelbiss had a touch of trouble, as he ran out of dog food. So he called an 800 help line set up for borough residents, which led to a delivery — but it was dry food, which Lucky couldn’t handle. Another call led to the delivery the next day of moist food, and Lucky was in luck.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.