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Railroad Quick To Reimburse Evacuees After Acid Spill

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MONUMENT, Colo. (CBS4/AP) – A hydrochloric acid spill forced hundreds of residents of a town just north of the U.S. Air Force Academy to spend a day away from home while crews transferred the dangerous chemical from a leaking train tanker to a safe container.

Evacuations were ordered for 255 homes in Monument, a town of 6,800 near Colorado Springs, after the leak was discovered by another passing train around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. It’s not clear how long it had been leaking as the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train traveled from Kansas toward Denver.

Everyone was allowed to go home by 10 p.m. after the acid was pumped from the leaking tanker into another one.

evacuation area Railroad Quick To Reimburse Evacuees After Acid Spill

No injuries or health problems were reported and monitors didn’t detect any harmful levels of the chemical. Fumes from hydrochloric acid can cause irritation to skin, eyes and lungs.

“It’s safe to go home,” said Monument police Lt. Steve Burk, adding that fliers with information about the incident were put in people’s mailboxes.

The railroad estimated that up to 75 gallons leaked out, possibly due to a failed liner, but didn’t know how full the 25,000-gallon tanker was before it spilled. Before the flow was stopped, it had been leaking a cup of acid a minute, said BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent.

The section of rail running through Monument is shared by BNSF and the Union Pacific Railroad. Between 33 and 40 trains from the two railroads combined pass through that section every 24 hours, Kent said.

The rail line reopened Wednesday evening and the new tanker with the acid was expected to move out Thursday morning.

Crews from the Fort Carson Army post near Colorado Springs relieved workers who had been at the site all day, said El Paso County sheriff’s spokesman Michael Schaller.

Bobby and Arlene Padilla said they were sleeping when a neighbor called at 5:30 a.m. to tell them about the leak, and around 6 a.m. an officer came to the door to tell them to evacuate. They said they don’t have a land line, only cell phones, so they didn’t get an automated call from authorities.

“Is this really happening?” Bobby Padilla said as the family ate at Rosie’s Cafe, which gave out 75 meal vouchers for evacuees.

The Padillas packed up their five children, including a 3-day-old baby, along with their pet birds and enough clothing and toiletries for four days, even though the officer told them they only needed to prepare to be gone for two.

BNSF is wasting little time reimbursing evacuees for their expenses. To qualify for reimbursement the evacuees need to have a driver’s license. That current address is cross referenced with the evacuation zone supplied by the police they’ll also need receipts.

Pam Vickers’ claim was denied because her address was not on the police map, but she’s got no regrets about her evacuation expenses.

“My neighbor told me they were already getting sick off the fumes when I talked to her and my husband has worked with hydrochloric acid and he knows how toxic those fumes can be,” Vickers said.

Most claims are being paid and checks were being issued on the spot by the railroad.

When asked why the railroad was so quick to pull out its checkbook, a spokeswoman said, “These are our neighbors, if they’re displaced we want to take care of them and the claims center will stay open all day Friday as well.”

The railroad has also told emergency responders to compile their expenses receipts as well and submit them for possible reimbursement.

- By Sheila V. Kumar, AP Writer (AP writer Dan Elliott and CBS4 contributed to this report from Denver)

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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