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GARY | A collision between two freight trains on CSX tracks near the U.S. 12 overpass injured two railroad employees and jolted some Miller Beach residents out of sleep early Easter Sunday.

"It was about 7 a.m., and I heard two big booms, and then the domino effect of train cars as they crashed into one another," said David Hecker, who lives in the Gary neighborhood. He said he was sleeping at the time in his family's home a block away from where the CSX and South Shore Freight trains collided.

The crash derailed several box cars, including some that remained standing on end where the collision had thrust them hours earlier.

"It shook the whole house," Hecker said.

Firefighters had to extricate two people, including a crew member who had a broken leg.

Gary Fire Department Chief Teresa Everett said the cause of the derailment is under investigation, and she expects crews will have to work for several days to clear up the wreckage.

An engine moved about 40 freight cars west from the accident scene about noon. The accident didn't affect traffic on parallel tracks to the north.

Everett said the first thing crews arriving on scene did was assess what kind of cargo the trains were carrying. Crews found the cargo did not include anything hazardous or threatening, she said.

However, a hazmat team was called out as a precaution, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said.

Hecker said there is a train switching station within a few feet of his house that controls traffic on three parallel sets of tracks that travel east and west through Miller Beach and the rest of the city.

Police blocked off Old Hobart Road/Miller Avenue and another railroad crossing nearby as CSX train crews walked the tracks. Mobile crane trucks were parked along U.S. 20 south of the derailment with their crews standing at the ready.

A Gary Fire Department pumper with hoses unfurled was positioned late Sunday morning in the Duneland Village residential area where only a screen of trees separated homes from the accident.

Brian Phelps, who lives with his family in the Duneland Village mobile home park, said the roar of the twisting metal sounded briefly like a tornado.

Everett said several residents in the area were asked to leave their homes for their safety from the large machinery being used to clear the scene.

"(They can return) once we move the cars that are closest to the houses," she said. "Once we get that stabilized, they can go back."

Residents living around the accident site recalled previous railroad accidents with fatal casualties and said they are used to living with the dangers.

Hecker said the crash reminded him of a car-train collision several months ago.

"I've lived here for more than 12 years, and I'm used to train sounds, but I can tell where there's an accident," Hecker said.

Times staff writer Lindsay Machak contributed to this report.

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.