According to officials at the 911 center, only 5 people called during the first half hour after the crash. That's a bit surprising given the size of this incident.
One theory is that's because the incident happened in a somewhat isolated place. But then the call volume picked up significantly as the cloud of vinyl chloride drifted over populous areas.
You can hear the stress in the callers' voices.
Caller: Derail! Hurry up.
Operator: 911 where is the emergency?
Caller: Hurry Up the train derailed at the train bridge in Paulsboro.
Caller: Hurry up, Smoke is everywhere.
Caller: Yeah a train. It's spewing out all kinds of gases, it derailed in Mantua Creek, the bridge collapsed.
The first calls came from people who could see the derailment , see the cars in the water, and the chemical vapors rising. Then came the first of many calls about the respiratory impact of those then unidentified vapors.
Caller: Something is leaking.
Operator: Do you have any idea what it is?
Caller: I don't know. I couldn't breathe.
Operator: You had a problem breathing?
After a similar call, the operator offered this advice:
Operator: Stay inside and make sure your windows are closed.
But not everyone could get inside. An outside work crew member called in, reporting a chemical cloud had descended on his workers.
Caller: A lot of my guys were exposed to this.
Caller: We have no idea what this chemical is.
Caller: I got everybody mustered in the one area, so if you could release some kind of, I don't know, paramedics or something.
First responders were of course kept very busy that day.
Eventually 70 people were taken to area hospitals and hundreds were evacuated.