Paulina residents allowed to return after derailed train car spills acid

Staff Report
Louisiana State Police Emergency Services Unit personnel evaluated the train derailment Nov. 2 in the St. James Parish community Paulina. One of the cars spilled hydrochloric acid, forcing the evacuation of some 200 residences.

The community of Paulina in St. James Parish was in international news articles after a hydrochloric acid spill from a derailed train car forced residents in the area to evacuate.

Some 200 residences were affected after the Nov. 2 derailment of six Canadian National railroad cars caused one of the cars to spill its contents.

Law enforcement and emergency officials went door-to-door alerting residents after the spill occurred. St. James Parish agencies also shared information through social media updates.

Crews responded to the Hwy. 642 and River Road area on the parish's east bank of the Mississippi River, which is west of Lutcher and Gramercy, directing residents affected by the spill to the Lutcher Senior Center. Residents were offered shelter at the center and set up to stay in hotels.

St. James Parish Sheriff Willy J. Martin Jr. said hotel stays were extended for a second night as air quality and ground contamination tests were done near the site.

The following day, officials announced all but two families were allowed to return to their residences. The two homes on Elaine Road were closest to the derailment and excavation was still in progress in the area. The railroad crossing was also closed while it was being repaired.

As of 4 p.m. Nov. 5, Hwy. 642 between Elaine Road and Hwy. 44 in Paulina remained closed to all through traffic, according to the sheriff's office.

The acid needed to be neutralized and removed before residents returned home, said Eric Deroche, St. James homeland security director.

Inhaling the corrosive chemical can irritate the lungs, causing cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breathing high levels of the gas can also lead to a build-up of fluid in the lungs, which can cause death.

According to a Louisiana State Police spokesperson, the damaged rail car contained 20,000 gallons of acid.

Crews worked to set the wrecked car upright in an effort to prevent additional spillage. The cleanup involved chemicals to neutralize the acid. Also, airboats were utilized to disperse vapors.

According to a Nola.com article, court documents showed two lawsuits were filed against Canadian National or related corporations in state court in St. James the day after the spill, Nov. 3.

Contributing: USA Today; The Associated Press