Train derails in Southern California desert; residents evacuated |

Train derails in Southern California desert; residents evacuated


MECCA, Calif. ” Some 60 residents of this Southern California desert town were evacuated from their homes after part of a Union Pacific train derailed and two of its tanker cars caught fire, authorities said, sending a cloud of acid fumes into the night sky.

Authorities said no one has been hurt in the incident, which was reported at 9:29 p.m. Monday.

Fire and railroad officials said one of the burning tanker cars contains hydrochloric acid. A strong acid, hydrochloric often is used in the production of chlorides, fertilizers and dyes, as well as in the photographic, textile and rubber industries.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hydrochloric acid is corrosive to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Acute short-term inhalation can cause eye, nose, and respiratory tract irritation and inflammation, plus a buildup of fluid in the lungs.

The other tanker car on fire contains phosphoric acid, officials said. Phosphoric is a milder acid typically used for rust removal and for the preparation of steel surfaces for painting.

Riverside County Fire Capt. Julie Hutchinson said early Tuesday that authorities have set up a one-mile radius around the accident site and no one is being let inside because of the potentially hazardous fumes.

Emergency crews are formulating an action plan, Hutchinson said, but so far have stayed clear of the derailment.

“We plan to go in and take a look as soon as we can get some sunlight on it,” Hutchinson said.

James Barnes, director of media information for Union Pacific, said the 65-car train was on an intrastate route, heading from West Colton to El Centro. The cause of its derailment still is under investigation, he said.

The accident site is next to Highway 111, which has been shut down for a seven-mile stretch south of State Road 195.

Mecca has nearly 5,400 residents and is in southern Riverside County, approximately 140 miles southeast of Los Angeles.