The city of Lynchburg on its website posted that the fire department was on the scene and urged motorists and pedestrians to avoid the area. It tweeted that the tanker cars were carrying crude oil and that three or four of them were breached. The city said 13 or 14 tanker cars were involved in the derailment.
No injuries were immediately reported, the city said.
Photos and video show several black tanker cars derailed and extensive flames and smoke.
The city said on in a news release on its website that CSX officials were working to remove the portion of the train that is blocking workers from leaving Griffin Pipe Foundry located in the lower basin.
Instagram user Sheri Felipe posted this horrifying footage of the fire:
It hasn't escaped anyone's notice that the accident comes amid growing criticism of the federal government's sluggish progress in strengthening safety standards for trains carrying gas and oil through populated areas. As the New York Times reported last week:
Since a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Canada last July, devastating a small town about 10 miles from the United States border, authorities in both countries have come under strong pressure to toughen regulations and improve the oversight of these hazardous shipments.
But while Canada has moved quickly after the accident, which killed 47 people in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, regulators in the United States have been much slower to act. The lag has angered members of Congress, as well as local and state officials, who have called for stronger action to enhance rail safety, including bolstering the tank cars used to transport crude oil.
The Transportation Department said Thursday that it was almost ready to push forward its own tank standards, which could be released by summer.
Meanwhile, Climate Progress reports, local environmentalists had been warning of the possibility of just such a disaster following an increase in crude oil transport. Earlier this month, a member of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club told the Daily Press: “These trains are traveling through Lynchburg along the James River through Richmond and on to the York County facility on the York River. We’re concerned that a train derailment could result in an explosion and the loss of life, or an oil spill that could jeopardize our drinking water supplies and the environment.”
"This accident is a potent reminder of the dangers that come with our dependence on dirty fuels and reinforces the need for better safety measures and increased emergency preparedness," the Sierra Club said in a statement responding to the derailment. "This train was one of many that pass along the James River, through more heavily populated areas including Richmond."
"In the wake of this and other recent dirty fuel disasters it's clear that we must move as quickly as possible to safer, cleaner forms of energy like wind and solar," the group added. "The safest place for dirty fuels is in the ground."