While debate continues on the merits of increased fossil fuels exports, one fact is becoming clear: It is increasingly perilous to ship crude by rail domestically.
Virginia residents were reminded of the danger this week when 13 tanker cars of a CSX train derailed in downtown Lynchburg. All of the train’s 105 cars were carrying crude from the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota.
Nationally, the amount of oil shipped on major US railways surged from fewer than 10,000 cars in 2008 to 415,000 in 2013. That’s an increase of more than 4,000 percent and most of the tank cars originated in the Bakken region where there is limited capacity to move crude using pipelines.
Virginia also was also the site of a massive NATURAL disaster this week, but the devastation and loss of life was nothing compared to the Mother Nature’s more lethal handiwork in the south.
A series of lethal tornadoes swept across the southern plains this week, killing at least 35 people, leaving widespread damage and massive rainfall in its wake.
The destruction started in Oklahoma and Arkansas before moving east into Alabama. The storms claimed 27 lives in Arkansas and Mississippi alone.
Countless buildings were ripped to shreds and trees were torn apart like toothpicks. Scenes like this were common in seven states where confirmed tornadoes touched down.
Teresa Ingram, Athens, Alabama Resident: "They, they say it sounds like a train. I've heard that saying. It sounds like a train. No. It was an evil, eerie powerful.”
As residents all over the southeast clean up, some admit it could have been worse.
In Mayflower, Arkansas, the violent storm left behind a massive debris field.
Arius Brown/Mayflower, Arkansas: "The tornado just ripped in...we all looked up...behind us the hallway and everything was gone."
The National Weather Service says the tornado that struck near Arkansas’ capital of Little Rock, likely packed winds exceeding 136 miles per hour.
Governor Mike Beebe, (D) - Arkansas: "We've obviously got a lot of experience with tornadoes. And any tornado is bad, particularly if it's a direct hit on something. But just looking at the damage, this may be one of the strongest we've seen.”
When the storms rolled through Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas, they destroyed dozens of homes. Eyewitnesses estimate the twister that devastated the region Sunday night, was three blocks wide.
A suspected tornado also struck north of Birmingham, Alabama late Monday night, tearing off the roof of this church in Kimberly.
Other buildings suffered a similar fate, including the town’s fire department where crews were on duty at the time the storm hit.
Don Lalonde, Kimberly, AL Firefighter: "I was standing right here and I heard a big wind come, almost like a train. So, I went back inside, and by the time I got back inside it started coming at us.”
And, as if the first round of storms wasn’t enough, some people had to take cover when another wave of severe weather bore down on the Tuscaloosa region. Some resident huddled in this concrete storm shelter that was built after a tornado killed 50 people in 2011, almost three years to the day of this week’s disaster.
Risha Prewitt/Tuscaloosa resident: "We went through the tornado storm on the 27th and we did not want to relive that actually, we wanted to take precautions and get in a safe place.”
The system then moved farther east dumping more than a foot of water in lower Alabama and north Florida. Near Pensacola, reports of 20 inch rainfalls were common with more on the way. Cars were stranded as some rescue and repair vehicles tried to wade through the water.
Further up the eastern seaboard in New Jersey, high water also flooded roads and made travel nearly impossible.
In New York, excessive rainfall contributed to the collapse of a 50 foot section of a retaining wall in Yonkers, north of New York City.
And cars were literally swallowed by a disappearing road in Baltimore, Maryland.
Lee Truelove, Witnessed Collapse: "All of a sudden this tree started going like that and I said oh my god, there goes a tree and it just went."
Many roads were shut down in Virginia and Maryland and emergency officials tried to rescue motorists outside of Washington, D.C.
Heavy rains were welcomed this week in parts of the Midwest, except for the eastern Corn Belt as indicated by the latest Drought Monitor.
But the story is much different to the west, according to University of Nebraska research.
In the Plains, from Nebraska -- south to Texas and back west to California, is still locked in exceptionally dry conditions. Nearly 50 percent of the country is in some form of drought, with the most severe in north Texas and central California.
Rainfall in the Corn Belt slowed planting progress this week. According to the USDA, just 5 percent of the country’s corn crop is in the ground. That is well behind the five-year pace of 28 percent. Eastern and southern states of North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are on schedule. But, farmers in the key corn-producing states of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska have barely begun planting.