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Derailed train in Arizona feared to be carrying hazardous materials actually transported corn syrup

Chris Higa

(TOPOCK, Ariz.) — Eight freight rail tankers derailed near Topock, Arizona, on Wednesday evening, according to BNSF Railway.


Despite initial reports from the Mojave County Sheriff’s Office that the train was carrying hazardous materials, BNSF confirmed that the train was actually carrying corn syrup. According to BNSF, “there were no injuries as a result of the derailment and preliminarily reports indicate there are no hazardous materials involved.”

The initial alarm about the derailment prompted concern on social media and in some local areas, with train derailments in the national spotlight following a hazardous derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in early February.

Chris Higa, 25, drove roughly 30 minutes from his home in Bullhead City, Arizona, to visit the site of the derailed train after hearing about the derailment on a police scanner.

“Being in my own town, it was definitely one of those like ‘Wow, is this actually happening?’” he said.

However, his reaction, once he arrived at the site of derailment, changed from concern to shock and awe.

“Kicking on that light bar, my vehicle, I could see the part of the train, and it was like, wow, there’s an actual train in the middle of the desert,” he said.

Higa said he could not smell or see anything that indicated a release of hazardous materials; rather, he just saw a portion of the sprawling train in the desert, the rumbling from its diesel engine and an increasing law enforcement response.

“I didn’t notice anything out of the blue, there was no smell. It was just that humid air,” he said. “There was no discoloration in the air, anything of any chemicals, no glowing of anything.”

Earlier that evening, the area was under a tornado warning, with flooding impacting the area as well. Higa said he witnessed some storm runoff potentially impacting the train tracks and BNSF confirmed that the track is blocked, with no estimated time for when it might be reopened.

Amtrak announced that at least one scheduled trip in the nearby area was canceled due to a “disabled freight train blocking the route ahead.”

The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office said that the National Transportation Safety Board has been notified of the incident and will investigate the derailment.

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