Louisiana Division/City Archives   New Orleans Public Library

Image of the Month
May 2011

"On September 8, 1987, a New Orleans Terminal (NOT) crew moved six tank cars of butadiene from the NOTís Oliver Yard in New Orleans, Louisiana, and at 7:35 p.m. placed them on track No. 3 of the CSX Transportationís (CSXT) Terminal Junction Interchange Yard (interchange yard) for delivery to the CSXT. About 1:50 a.m. on September 9, 1987, butadiene leaking from the bottom manway of a tank car was ignited and the resulting flames, rising about 100 feet into the air, engulfed both bridge spans of Interstate 10. The fire receded to the leaking tank car where it burned beneath the tank car until 1:55 p.m. on September 10, 1987. During the emergency, more than 200 city blocks were evacuated affecting 800 to 1,000 residents."

This photograph shows New Orleans Fire Department fire fighters working the blaze shortly after its discovery. Once Superintendent William McCrossen learned that butadiene (a highly explosive toxic chemical used in the manufacture of synthetic rubber) was in the tank cars he ordered his men to fall back to a minimum of four blocks from ground zero (near the I-10 crossing over Franklin Avenue).

More than 8000 residents of the affected area sued CSX and other responsible parties, seeking compensation for injuries, pain, suffering, medical costs, mental anguish, lost wages and property damage, including physical damage and lost value of their homes. The suit dragged on for years with an original $3.4 billion jury award being reduced several times and various partial settlements being made. Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the accident.

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