A CSX cargo train has derailed and exploded in a suburb of the US city of Baltimore today.
The blast rattled homes at least a half-mile away and collapsed nearby buildings, setting them on fire, officials and witnesses said.
The train went off the tracks about 2 pm (6am NZT) in White Marsh, about 10 miles (16km) northeast of Baltimore, and fire department spokeswoman Louise Rogers Feher said there were no immediate word on injuries. Hazmat teams were on the scene, but fire officials did not have immediate information on what might be still be burning.
Dale Walston said he lives about a half-mile away from the blast site and that the smell of chemicals was very strong.
"It shook my house pretty violently and knocked things off the shelves," he said.
A thick plume of black smoke was emerging from the scene and was visible for miles, the smoke drifting across the Baltimore city line and covering the eastern part of the city. It was visible to motorists heading north on Interstate 95, through downtown Baltimore. More than one video posted to Facebook shows the fire, then minutes later, an explosion rattles the area.
Photos and video on TV stations showed at least three rail cars off the tracks. Overhead news shots show several blackened buildings and fires burning. Rogers Feher said several buildings "fell apart". They also showed a tractor-trailer overturned near the front of the crash.
A worker at a nearby Dunkin Donuts, Tawan Rai, said he saw a fire and flames by the railroad tracks at first, then felt a thundering blast that sent smoke pouring into the sky.
"The whole building shook and there was just dust everywhere," said Rai, adding no windows broke but he was surprised by the intensity of the blast. "I went outside and people were rushing there, the police officers, fire trucks."
He also said he saw some ambulances arrive but didn't see anyone injured.
John Kane, treasurer of Atlantic Tire on nearby Pulaski Highway, said the explosion blew out two large showcase windows and light fixtures in his shop. The highway, also called Route 40, is shut down to the Baltimore city line as well as some side streets in area.
The derailment is the third serious one this month. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, on May 17, more than 70 people were injured when a commuter train derailed. The eastbound train from New York City went off the tracks during evening rush hour, came to a stop and was struck about 20 seconds later by a westbound train.
In Rockview, Missouri, on Saturday, a cargo train crash injured seven people and destroyed a highway overpass that could take a year to repair.
In each of the past five years, CSX has reported more than 100 deaths in accidents and incidents involving the railroad.
The Federal Railroad Administration says CSX reported 104 deaths in 2012, down from 122 in 2011 and 117 in 2010. The railroad reported 102 deaths in 2009 and 122 in 2008.
The number of derailments on CSX's network in the eastern United States has been declining steadily since 2008 when it reported 229 derailments. Last year, CSX reported 143 derailments. CSX, based in Jacksonville, Florida, operates over 21,000 miles (33,700km) of track in 23 eastern states and two Canadian provinces.