Originally created 01/21/05

Town picks up pieces after train wreck



GRANITEVILLE - Above the buzz of heavy machinery and salvage crews moving debris, Josie Widener was told Thursday what she's longed to hear for two weeks - it was finally safe to go home.

Inspectors gave her the go-ahead to re-enter her house on Rock Town Drive after checking for electrical problems and safety hazards.

"I'm just glad to be home. I know some people are talking about moving, but I'm not," Mrs. Widener said.

"Something like this could happen anywhere."

Mrs. Widener was among the last of 5,400 evacuees to return home, though some stragglers will follow today. People were asked to leave after the Jan. 6 train wreck and chlorine spill that killed nine people and sent hundreds to the hospital.

Now, with roadblocks in the town gone and schools back in session, residents able to return home and the curfew lifted, life in the small mill town is returning to normal.

Still, signs of what happened that day lingered.

A sharp, chemical odor hung in the air at the crash site Thursday afternoon, and Norfolk Southern workers continued to move dirt and debris from the crash site, toss grass seed on the ground and lay new tracks.

The last damaged chlorine tank car was removed Tuesday night.

Crews are scheduled to finish the cleanup of debris by Sunday, said Robin Chapman, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern.

Avondale Mills, which lost six employees because of the crash, has opened parts of its Gregg, Swint, Townsend and Horse Creek plants.

The company is still assessing and repairing damage caused by the chlorine spill, company spokesman Stephen Felker Jr. said.

It hopes to be at full production early next week.

The Jan. 6 wreck forced Norfolk Southern officials to re-route eastbound trains on the Augusta-to-Columbia line through Atlanta, then on to a rail line running between Greenville, S.C., and Columbia, Mr. Chapman said.

Westbound trains followed the opposite course, he said.

Mr. Chapman also distanced the company from a $1.6 million damage estimate made by a National Transportation Safety Board official.

He said the railroad has not released a damage estimate for the wreck and, unless it decides to provide an estimate in routine financial reports, is unlikely to do so.

Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109, or karen.ethridge@augustachronicle.com

How to head home

 •  Residents still evacuated from their homes must obtain permits from the Aiken County Planning and Development Office before returning.

 •  To set up an inspection, call (803) 642-1525. Permits can be picked up at 1680 Richland Ave. W.

 •  Homeowners are asked to schedule home repairs by calling the Norfolk Southern Local Assistance Center at (803) 663-4785. Claims are being handled by appointment between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Help center

The Norfolk Southern Community Assistance Center has moved to its new location at the old community services building at 124 Ascauga Lake Road in Graniteville.



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