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Derailment Keeps Residents Away

The 2,200 residents of Potterville were told Tuesday that they cannot go home for at least another day while crews clean up a freight train derailment that left some cars leaking propane.

Some people in the town 12 miles southwest of Lansing may be able to return home Wednesday, but it could be longer, Eaton County Sheriff Rick Jones said.

The Grand Trunk train derailed Monday, sending 35 of its 58 cars off the tracks and forcing the evacuation of the city. Nine cars carried propane; two had sulfuric acid. Propane was leaking from two cars.

No injuries were reported. The cause of the accident was not known, but Jones said foul play had been ruled out.

On Tuesday, emergency crews burned off propane to reduce the risk of explosion and clear the way for cleanup. Jones said each of the 35 derailed cars must be checked before residents can return home.

Each propane car contained 34,000 gallons of propane gas.

"We have to move cautiously," said Ian Thomson, a spokesman for Canadian National Railroad, parent company of Grand Trunk. "Our goal is to keep the area safe and the community safe."

Schools were closed through at least Wednesday.

The train derailed within yards of a mobile home park and subdivision in Potterville.

"It derailed right in front of our house," said Kelli Barcomb, who lives with her husband and three children in the park. "It was kind of scary because we're usually out there and we watch it go by."

Dozens of police and fire officials used bull horns and went door-to-door trying to clear the town and shut down entrances to the city. State officials closed both highway exits to Potterville off Interstate 69 and sections of other roads.

Electrical service was also severed to most of the town at the request of fire officials. It was largely restored Tuesday morning.

"Nothing like this has ever happened here, there's no way you can plan for this," Fire Capt. T.J. Richardson said.

Residents with nowhere else to go were given food and water at the sheriff's office. More than 90 people and 17 volunteers were at the shelter, but several left after learning Canadian National would reimburse residents for hotel rooms.

Julie Potter arrived at the shelter Monday afternoon with her three cats. She had been mowing her lawn when the train derailed and immediately fled.

"I'm a nervous wreck," she said.

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