Authorities evacuated numerous buildings Wednesday afternoon after several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., and caught fire along the James River, city officials said.
NBC News reported the 15-car train was traveling from Chicago to Virginia.
The city of Lynchburg on its website posted that the fire department was on the scene and urged motorists and pedestrians to avoid the area. It tweeted that the tanker cars were carrying crude oil and that three or four of them were breached. The city said 13 or 14 tanker cars were involved in the derailment.
No injuries were immediately reported, the city said.
Photos and video show several black tanker cars derailed and extensive flames and smoke.
The city said in a news release that CSX officials were working to remove the portion of the train that is blocking workers from leaving Griffin Pipe Foundry located in the lower basin.
"We're used to kind of bangs and booms," said Gerald McComas, a security officer at foundry up river from the derailment site. "My first thought was it sounded like one of the guys started a motorcycle and then a realized, wait a minute, no ... that was more of a boom. We walked outside and there was the smoke rolling in."
A portion of the train was blocking the road allowing workers at to leave their parking lot, McComas said. Instead workers were walking along the tracks to get to the other side of the train in order to leave their facility.
"I'm walking home tonight," McComas joked.
A phone message left by The Associated Press with the Lynchburg Police Department wasn't immediately returned.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Adam Thiel was dispatched to the site to provide officials with updates on the situation.
Lynchburg is a city of about 77,000 people in the foothills of Blue Ridge Mountains. It is home to Liberty University and several others and is located about halfway between Baltimore and Charlotte, N.C.
Oil train accidents were the topic of National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman last week at a two-day safety forum in Washington.
Hersman said the Obama administration needed to take steps immediately to protect the public from potentially catastrophic oil train accidents even if it means using emergency authority.
The Transportation Department was in the midst of drafting regulations to toughen standards for tank cars used to transport oil and ethanol, as well as other steps prevent or mitigate accidents. But there isn't time to wait for the cumbersome federal rulemaking process — which often takes many years to complete — to run its normal course, Hersman said.
"We are very clear that this issue needs to be acted on very quickly," she told reporters at the conclusion of a two-day forum the board held on the rail transport of oil and ethanol. "There is a very high risk here that hasn't been addressed."