By Colleen Rowan Catholic News Service
BOOMER, W.Va. (CNS) — As the cleanup of a major train derailment in West Virginia continued, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston called for prayers for residents who were evacuated and remained without drinking water.
“As the people of this region face yet another water crisis in the middle of winter, we are all reminded of the fragility of our natural environment and our dependence on it,” Bishop Bransfield said.
A federal investigation has begun into what caused the Feb. 16 train derailment that spilled crude oil into the adjacent Kanawha River.
The train was carrying more than 100 tankers of oil. After an explosion that sent a plume of fire into the sky, roughly 14 cars burned as oil spilled into the river. Hundreds of residents in the Boomer and Montgomery areas were evacuated to nearby shelters and hotels and many area residents have no drinking water.
The disaster occurred a little more than a year after the January 2014 chemical spill that left 300,000 residents of nine counties without water.
As of Feb. 22, some cars had been removed but many of the 27 cars that went off the tracks remained, according to an AP story. A Federal Railroad Administration official told AP in a telephone interview that ice and snow have made clearing the damaged cars extremely difficult.
“Our wonderful Mountain State has a long tradition of supplying the energy needs of the nation and serving as a crossroad for resources and materials being shipped throughout the region,” Bishop Bransfield said in his statement.
He quoted from his pastoral message “On My Holy Mountain,” in which he called for greater attention to “the health of communities situated near mines, and on the purity of water flowing through and leaving the coalfields.”
“As the disasters of both this winter and the previous one remind us, the health of our communities and the purity of our water resources are also vulnerable to accidents and negligence in other sectors of the energy supply industries,” the bishop said. “As a community of faith, it is important for us to support one another in times of disaster and to work together, in every moment, for the protection of the environment we hold so dear and upon which we depend.”
In Boomer, Father Mark Gallipeau, pastor of St. Anthony’s Shrine Mission, was in the church when the derailment occurred. It is across the Kanawha River from the disaster site.
“There were actually several explosions,” he said. When it happened, he said, the lights flickered. “It seemed like the power was going to go out in the church but it didn’t.” Later that night, he visited the Montgomery Fire Station, which had become the command center for emergency response to the disaster with personnel from several organizations.
To pray for the people affected by the disaster, Father Gallipeau, who is also pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Montgomery, celebrated a special Mass at Immaculate Conception Church the morning of Feb. 16.
“The people around here have been through a few tragedies recently, with the chemical spill last January and (Superstorm) Sandy,” he told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
“I ask you to pray for Father Gallipeau and the parishioners of St. Anthony’s Shrine, Boomer, and Immaculate Conception Parish, Montgomery, and the people of these communities who are being evacuated from their homes during this emergency,” Bishop Bransfield said. “I also ask you to pray for the first responders and the crews who will be working to clean up the accident site.”
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Rowan is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.