A train carrying crude oil has derailed near Custer, Whatcom County, and everyone within a half-mile of Custer was told to evacuate immediately, officials said Tuesday afternoon.
The trail derailed at 11:46 a.m. for unknown reasons, said Trooper Heather Axtman, Washington State Patrol Public Information Officer for Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties.
Between three and five cars fully derailed and caught fire. Once the fire department fully extinguishes the fire, the public is advised to wait until the smoke plume dissipates to ensure that the area is safe again. Anyone within a half mile radius of the 7600 block of Custer School Road needs to evacuate due to the toxicity of crude oil, added Axtman. There are no reported injuries.
The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office said at 1:15 p.m. that officials are in the process of evacuating everyone within a half-mile of 7500 Portal Way. The area should be avoided.
Sheriff Bill Ello said he doesn’t believe anyone was injured, including the driver of the train. A hazmat team is on the scene to manage the toxic impacts of the crude oil.
Interstate 5 is closed between Grandview Road and Birch Bay Lynden Road, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.Travelers should expect this closure to last through the day, said WSDOT spokesperson Joe Calabro. The Custer rest area is also closed.
“If you don’t have to travel through the area, please don’t. If you do, use an alternate route,” he said.
WSDOT is advising drivers to use Sumas or Lynden border crossings if headed to the Canadian border.
“Freight travelers can still use Highway 548 to get to the Blaine crossing, but there is going to be extra traffic headed up that way, I would imagine,” he said.
Jenny Reich, a longtime Custer resident and owner of Whimsy Art Glass, was preparing to open her glass shop Tuesday afternoon when she was caught by surprise. She was so accustomed to the noises and shaking that accompany living close to a rail line that she doesn’t notice the trains anymore.
“But all of a sudden it was a really big noise, and everything was shaking,” said Reich.
A plume of black smoke, from the fire that followed the derailment, obscured the view out of her window. Shortly after emergency personnel arrived to the scene, Reich was advised to evacuate her business. She grabbed her wallet, keys and dog and hit the road.
This breaking news post will be updated.