Waverly, TN Train Wreck, Explosion and Fire Feb 1978

Waverly Plaque Memorial Propane Blast Site Memorial Site Waverly TENN explosion 2.jpg Waverly TENN explosion.jpg

Blast Kills 11, Hurts 145

WAVERLY, Tenn. (UPI) - A derailed tank car loaded with 2,000 gallons of propane exploded in "a ball of fire" Friday when workmen began to drain it, hurling burning bodies into the air and setting downtown Waverly afire.

A spokesman for Adj. Gen. Carl Wallace, head of the Tennessee National Guard, said Friday night at least 11 persons were killed and 145 injured.

But spokesman Hooper Penuel said the casualty figures "are going to fluctuate" and "I really can't give you a definite figure until they go in there and scrape up all that stuff."

'It was just big rolls of flame and black smoke," police dispatcher W. E. Bishop said. "There were people in the air, landing on fire, people with their clothes burning. It was just a ball of fire."

Firefighters rushed to the scene throughout East Tennessee. Airborne firefighting units were flown in from Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Six hours after the blast devastated the town of 4,000, fires still burned in the downtown area and firemen poured foam on a second propane tanker to keep it cool.

Spokesman Penuel said 16 buildings were destroyed in the downtown area. He said civil defense units on the scene asked for a refrigerated van to be sent in for use as a morgue.

The tankers were among 24 cars of a Louisville & Nashville freight train that derailed Wednesday when a broken wheel hit a switch point.

Wallace called in 50 National Guard troopers to open the local armory as a shelter and ordered a half-mile area around the blast site evacuated.

Mayor Jimmy Powers said he called President Carter, who send a personal representative and "extended his deepest sympathy." Powers said he asked for federal help in rebuilding the town.

Medical rescue helicopters from Memphis, 155 miles to the west, and from Ft. Campbell flew out many of the injured. Others were taken to hospitals in nearby towns.

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