ANSTED, W.Va. (AP) — Morris Bounds Sr. wanted to make sure his home was tidy when his wife was let out of the hospital, so he cleaned the kitchen and vacuumed their bedroom.
While doing the mindless chores, he noticed his cellphone on the bed and thought to himself: “I might need this.” After all, friends and family had been coming and going from the house since his wife’s heart surgery, and he expected her home any day.
Bounds grabbed his cellphone off the bed and walked into the kitchen. As soon as he did, he heard the harrowing squeal of colliding metal and looked outside into the snowstorm. Just 50 feet away, he could see a train crashing.
He bolted out the front door as fast as his bad knees could take him. He didn’t have time to grab his shoes and trudged through the snow in his socks. Temperatures were in the teens.
Turns out, having the cellphone helped save his life.
“I just had a second to look and a second to run,” Bounds told The Associated Press on Monday, exactly one week after 27 cars of a CSX train went off the tracks next to his home.
As he ran, the wreckage burst into spectacular fireballs that shot into the sky. The yard was on fire and “it blew that hot oil on both sides of me, all over the house, my trucks.”
“If I had been there another second, it’d probably have killed me,” Bounds said. “Glass was flying everywhere behind me. The walls were caving in. I hadn’t run like that in years.”
Bounds is still having trouble grasping what happened. His home of 25 years is ruined. His trucks were destroyed. Decades of photos and keepsakes are gone.
Bounds, a 68-year-old retired machinist, suffered only inhalation injuries. No one else in the area was hurt.
But it could have been much worse.
His daughter, Sarah Anderson, and two grandchildren had been staying at the home while Bounds’ wife, Patty, was in the hospital.
Patty Bounds had convinced her daughter to go home to Ohio over the weekend to get a few things before coming back for another stay. Patty Bounds had had heart bypass surgery, came home and then went back to the hospital with the flu on the Friday before the crash. Had she been there, Bounds Sr. believes she never would have gotten out.
Bounds had also been waiting on his son to come by and clear snow. The storm had just dumped more than 7 inches on his narrow strip of land sandwiched between the Kanawha River and railroad tracks in southern West Virginia.
His son, who lives 400 yards away, was on the way to his parents’ house when he had to turn around to get a snow shovel. When Morris Bounds Jr. got to his own house, he decided to rest rather than head back out into the snowstorm.
“I sat down in the chair momentarily, my little dog jumped on my lap and all of a sudden I heard this roaring, like thunder. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!” the younger Bounds said.
About that time, his dad was running from his burning home. Residents across the river a few hundred yards away saw Bounds escape his home. Some yelled to see if he needed help.
Trapped between the burning house and the river, Bounds ran some more and called his son.
“He was screaming my name, ‘Morris, please help!” the son said. “‘There’s a train! I’m running through fire! Everything’s going to blow up. The train’s wrecked. My house is completely engulfed in flames. Everything’s in flames and I’m on the other side of the flame. I need you to come get me.”
His son raced over and found his dad had made it several hundred feet away from the home in his tattered socks.
“That picture is still stuck in my mind: His mouth wide open, gasping for air, trying to get to my truck,” Bounds Jr. said.
Bounds Sr. said he still requires treatments to help with his breathing and can taste something funny inside his mouth.
Investigators have not determined what caused the crash. The train was carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude. Oil leaked into a Kanawha River tributary, forcing nearby water treatment plants to temporarily shut down.
The fire took four days to burn out and work continues to remove the overturned tanks.
CSX has said it will compensate Bounds for his losses. He now has only memories of a peaceful life along the Kanawha River and doesn’t plan to rebuild on the property.
“I could have lost these grandbabies, my daughter, my son,” Bounds said, his voice breaking. “That’s what tears at you so bad. If anyone had been in that house but me … if I’d been in the next room, I would have died.”