LAWTELL — One lane of a section of U.S. 190 that was closed after Sunday’s train wreck in St. Landry Parish has reopened.
Expect alternating lane closures, the Louisiana Department Of Transportation And Development tweeted around 10:20 a.m.
Officials were also allowing the remaining 150 evacuees forced to return to their Lawtell homes Thursday, five days after a Union Pacific train carrying hazardous chemicals and other cargo derailed at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, sending 27 cars off the tracks, possibly contaminating a bayou.
On Tuesday, trains resumed rolling on the Union Pacific line.
“We’re very hopeful this event is near its end,” St. Landry Parish President Bill Fontenot said Wednesday. “The biggest part is done, but there is still a lot to do.”
A Union Pacific train with two locomotives pulling 76 cars, including some loaded with highly toxic vinyl chloride, were headed east from Lake Charles to a switching station in Livonia when the train derailed.
Officials reported no injuries or deaths.
Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent for Louisiana State Police, said the train was traveling under the 50 mph speed limit for trains carrying hazardous material.
Government environmental personnel will continue to monitor the air in Lawtell and the water surrounding the derailment site, Fontenot said.
The most potent of the chemicals in the container cars — vinyl chloride — didn’t leak from the three derailed cars that carried the ingredient, which is used to make plastics.
Edmonson said all the vinyl chloride except for residue in two of the cars has been removed from the site. The two empty cars are scheduled to be lifted onto trucks Thursday and brought to a cleaning facility in Houston, he said.
The derailment did cause some spillage, including dodecanol and sodium hydroxide, before the leaking cars were sealed about nine hours after the Sunday 3:30 p.m. derailment. To prevent the spread of the material, workers built earthen berms around the cars and dammed up a nearby ditch.
However, water draining from nearby rice fields flowed into the ditch, moving the contaminants over the man-made barrier and into Bayou Mallet, said Paul Miller, an on-site official with the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Miller said an undetermined amount of chemicals was believed released into Bayou Mallet, with a possible effect on fish in the water body. He said workers have since shored up the berms and tested the water from the bayou. Test results were not available Wednesday morning, he said.
Also unknown on Wednesday was the cause of the derailment.
Train and government officials are poring over details of the derailment for a report that could be weeks or months away, said Drew Tessier, director of public affairs for Union Pacific in Louisiana.
Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza, based in Houston, said the section of track where the train derailed was inspected hours before the accident. She said Union Pacific personnel visually inspect the rail line every day during the heat of the summer.
Espinoza said the company also periodically uses rail cars equipped with X-ray cameras to detect cracks in the steel and check the alignment of the rails.
Evacuees scheduled to return home Thursday are asked to gather at the Yambilee Building west of Opelousas before being escorted home by a sheriff’s deputy and two officials who will test their homes with air monitoring equipment, Fontenot said.
The second wave of returning residents came after officials lifted mandatory evacuation orders for homes and businesses a quarter-mile from the derailment site. On Sunday, everyone within a mile was told to leave. The one-mile parameter was later reduced to a quarter-mile, allowing the return home of about 100 evacuees on Tuesday.
Evacuees who want to file claims with Union Pacific can begin the process by calling (877) 877-2567 and selecting option 1.