TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) – A tanker car transporting flammable gas derailed in a switchyard and exploded in a ball of fire Saturday, killing one person and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes.

A plume of smoke covered the south end of the city, and at least seven people went to hospital emergency rooms with complaints of respiratory problems.

At least two homes were destroyed – including one where the victim died – and several vehicles were totaled in the quarter-mile area surrounding the accident, police spokesman Chris Rankin said. A 209-foot-long railroad bridge also caught fire and was destroyed, a Union Pacific spokesman said.

The propylene tank was still burning Saturday evening, but the fire was under control and the smoke had thinned out, Rankin said.

Union Pacific officials planned to let the tank burn out and estimated it would take until early Sunday morning. Police canceled the evacuation order Saturday afternoon, about 10 hours after the derailment.

Initially, police thought the chemical involved was vinyl acetate, which releases poisonous fumes. Officers went door to door, urging thousands of people in a 2-by-5 mile area to move to the north side of town. Propylene is less dangerous.

“The smoke was so thick it blocked out daylight,” Rankin said.

A Union Pacific train coming from Chicago hit the back of another freight train in the rail yard, causing the eight cars to derail, said Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis.

None of the railroad crew members was injured, he said.

Rankin said the switching yard is behind the police station, about a quarter mile from the Texas border and also serves Kansas City Southern and Amtrak.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said a southbound passenger train was delayed two hours by the derailment but was eventually rerouted. He said the damage would likely mean delays for Amtrak’s Texas Eagle until the site was cleaned up.

Wadley Regional Medical Center was in the evacuation area, and several patients and nurses also complained of nose and eye irritation, spokeswoman Shelby Brown said.

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