MOUNT CARBON, W.Va. (AP) — Lush grass sways in the breeze on once-scorched earth where Morris Bounds' home had stood, flattened and incinerated by a derailed oil train that exploded yet allowed him a path to escape.
"Seventeen came over right here," Bounds said, referring to the number of rail cars that barreled onto his property in February 2015 in the southern West Virginia community of Mount Carbon.
In an instant, his house, trucks and fishing docks were destroyed.
Bounds still thinks about it every day — the horrifying screech of rail cars leaving the tracks. The fireball that went hundreds of feet into the air. The luck of retrieving a cell phone he hardly uses from his bedroom moments before the train hit, allowing him to call his son for help as he ran outside without shoes in the frigid cold.
He's thankful that his family, normally gathered in numbers at the house, wasn't there. His wife, Patricia, was recuperating from the flu at a hospital. A daughter and her children had gone home the day before. A son was supposed to be shoveling Bounds' driveway in preparation for Patricia Bounds' return but forgot a snow shovel and had gone to retrieve it.
More than a year later, Bounds and his wife are enjoying their first spring on the other side of the Kanawha River in a home paid for by CSX. They also plan to rebuild at the derailment site on the company's dime for family gatherings.
"I don't think you ever get over it," Patricia Bounds said. "But you just have to accept it and get on with your life."
The train was carrying more than 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude. Federal investigators determined the derailment of 27 cars total was caused by a broken rail, which started out as a crack that wasn't caught in two previous inspections. CSX and a rail contractor were fined $25,000 apiece.
Oil that didn't burn off accumulated in the river and an adjoining creek. CSX agreed to a long-term plan for cleaning up and restoring the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 293,000 gallons of an oil-water mix, 19,000 gallons of recovered crude oil and nearly 19,000 tons of soil were removed.
With sheens no longer detected, CSX spokeswoman Melanie Cost said a metal sheet wall that was a barrier between the river and the rail line will be removed by the end of the summer. Soil and groundwater sampling continues, and the company plans to scale back progress reports on the monitoring from monthly to quarterly, starting in June.
By then, the vegetables that Bounds has planned for his new backyard garden may be ready for picking.
Patricia Bounds is waiting to get a sewing room at the new house where her son has been doing an extensive remodeling since they moved in. She lost dozens of handcrafted wall quilts and has yet to replace countless sheets of fabric and spools of thread lost in the derailment.
Morris Bounds would have been content to move back on the trackside property because he doesn't believe he'll ever experience such an accident again.
"It's a lot more dangerous to get out on the highway than it is right beside the railroad tracks," he said. "My wife wouldn't want to live there, but it don't scare me."
Death has already stared him in the face at least five other times.
When he was 3, he fell out of a moving car and hit his head. He still has a scar.
There were several brushes when he drove a gas tank truck in the late 1960s, including narrowly avoiding getting hit by a train at a crossing.
Four months after last year's derailment, Bounds was about to stop at a yard sale when a coal truck behind him locked its brakes and nearly ran into him.
The derailment topped them all.
"You cherish life after something bad happens to you," Bounds said. "You realize things could happen in an instant and change your whole life."