Freight train derails in rural California desert

July 28, 2011 - 4:44 AM

LITTLEROCK, Calif. (AP) — Residents of 250 homes remain evacuated after a freight train derailed in the high desert of northern Los Angeles County, toppling 21 cars and triggering a search for possible chemical leaks.

No one was injured after 21 of 68 cars toppled off the tracks Wednesday afternoon in Littlerock, a sparsely populated community in the Antelope Valley, Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said. Six of the derailed cars that typically carry hazardous materials were empty, he said.

Nonetheless, a hazardous materials team inspected the tank cars in case there were residual substances inside that may have leaked. The cars had residual chlorine and hydrogen fluoride, but experts found no leaks, Los Angeles County fire inspector Don Kunitomi said.

Officials said an evacuation of residents living near the derailed train will remain in place until Thursday when crews can upright the cars and check further.

"The danger not over until we right those cars," sheriff's Lt. Don Ford said.

The tank cars were designed to withstand a derailment by having the wheels come off one side of the track and the tanks fall down the other side, county fire Deputy Chief Mike Metro said Wednesday.

"They're designed to take a hit like they took today, and that's why we didn't have any leak," Metro said.

Esther Harrell, who lived within a block of the tracks, said she had just woken up from a nap when she was told to pack a few things and leave.

"We've lived by the tracks for 30 years and have never seen a derailment, I guess there's a first for everything," Harrell said.

Footage from KCAL-TV showed cars lying alongside a long stretch of track, with only a few buildings nearby.

Littlerock is at the foot of the northern face of the San Gabriel Mountains, which separate the Mojave Desert from metropolitan Los Angeles.