One of the worst railroad accidents in South Carolina history occurred the morning of Jan. 6, 2005, when a freight train smashed into a parked locomotive in the textile community of Graniteville.
Chlorine gas leaked from one of the cars, spreading a lethal fog across Graniteville. Nine people died as the chlorine seared their lungs. Hundreds of others gasped and fled their homes.
At Avondale Mills, adjacent to where the crash occurred, workers called 911, pleading for help as the chlorine seeped into the complex of buildings in tiny Graniteville.
“My lungs hurt so much,’’ one worker said on a 911 tape obtained later by The State newspaper. “Oh God. I don’t know if I’m going to make it or not.’’
Avondale, a huge textile mill with roots in the 1800s, shut down after the 11,500-gallon chlorine spill. About 1,600 people lost their jobs, causing the town to suffer economically for years. Many survivors of the chlorine leak still have trouble breathing today.
The wreck resulted from human error, federal investigators found. A crew member from a train that had parked on a side track for the night failed to flip a switch. Hours later, a Norfolk Southern train, believed to have been traveling at 47 mph, ran off the main line and onto the side rail where the parked train sat.
The ear splitting collision ruptured a tanker car, releasing the chlorine – and forever changing Graniteville.