Residents return home after fatal train crash, fire forces evacuations

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HOXIE, Ark. -- People in Hoxie, Ark., got the all-clear to return to their homes after a crash between two freight trains forced them to run for safe shelter.

The Sunday morning crash killed two Union Pacific crew members aboard one of the locomotives and injured two others.

While the National Transportation Safety Board investigates, folks who live near the scene are glad to be back home.

Mary Smith won't soon forget the wake-up call she got around 3:45 Sunday morning when a fireman knocked on the front door of her home.

"'Ma'am, you have got to evacuate immediately. There has been a train derailment and you have to leave,'" Mary Smith recalled.

Two freight trains collided less than a mile from her home on Southeast Front Street.

The head-on crash left box cars and tank cars stacked up like toys, and sent a fireball into the sky.

"And then I came out in my driveway and I looked and I saw the flames way above the treeline.  And I knew we had to get out," said Smith.

D Ward was another Hoxie resident forced to flee the smoke and fire.

"Yea, when I crossed the tracks up there, leaving out, I could see the blaze and everything. And it smoked all day, it took about ten hours for it to quit smoking," said Ward.

As many as 500 people left their homes, spending a good part of the day with friends or at the Walnut Ridge Community Center until it was determined the smoke from the fire was not hazardous.

By Sunday night, the all-clear had been given and people were returning to their homes.

Monday, investigators wearing bright safety vests swarmed over charred locomotives and tank cars, trying to determine what caused the deadly crash.

A water quality team tested water in a nearby rice field not far from where the train was burning, taking samples of run-off water.

Jas Richardson and his family farm about 2,000 acres of rice and soybeans in Hoxie.

Richardson is concerned because some of his rice crop is close to where the train was burning Sunday. He said his rice crop could be in danger if water samples show any contamination.

"It could be something simple or it might be something that causes us not to be able to farm this next year. I mean, we don't know yet.  But I believe what they've told us is 'we don't have to worry about it too much," said Richardson.

Union Pacific has confirmed one of the men killed is from White Hall, Ark., and the other is from McKinney, Texas.

The NTSB has recovered recorders from the crash site.

Highway 67 is closed West of Highway 63 while crews continue to investigate and remove wreckage.