CASSELTON, N.D. (AP) — A train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s oil patch derailed Monday near the small town of Casselton, setting off a series of fiery explosions. No injuries were initially reported, but officials were warning residents to stay indoors as the situation unfolded.
BNSF Railway spokeswoman Amy McBeth said a train carrying grain was first to derail, and it knocked several cars of the mile-long oil train off adjoining tracks. Several explosions were reported, she said.
Cass County Sheriff’s Capt. Mitch Burris also told The Associated Press that the derailment appeared to result from the crude oil train striking a grain car, but he said investigators were still trying to determine exactly what happened.
Residents of the small North Dakota town near an oil train derailment say they were literally shaken by the experience. City Auditor Sheila Klevegard says one of the blasts shook the windows of the city hall. Klevegard said she looked out to see a huge plume and fireball about a mile from town.
By late Monday afternoon, the smoke plume was diminishing and was staying mostly away from town.
Cass County Emergency Manager Dave Rogness said the town’s 2,400 residents were told to stay indoors as a precaution.
Rogness said crews were calling for truckloads of sand to help contain leaking material. He says the derailment occurred near the city’s ethanol plant.
Terry Johnson, the manager of a grain dealer less than a mile from the derailment, said he had heard at least six explosions in the two hours following the incident.
“Each one, you could hear the explosion,” he said. “It shook our building and there was a huge fireball.”
Johnson said he was staying inside his grain business, as directed by authorities, but could see the disaster through a window.
“The town is covered with black smoke,” he said. “The wind is blowing a little, so the town doesn’t have to breathe it.”
State health officials were in Casselton and plan to check for health hazards once the fires are out, said Dave Glatt, director of the Health Department’s environmental health section.
“We’re just standing by waiting for emergency responders to get it under control,” he said.
North Dakota is the No. 2 oil-producing state in the U.S., trailing only Texas, and a growing amount of that oil is being shipped by rail. The state’s top oil regulator said earlier this month that he expected as much as 90 percent of North Dakota’s oil would be carried by train in 2014, up from the current 60 percent.
That matches a growing national trend and has stoked fears of catastrophic derailments, especially in the wake of last summer’s crash in Canada of a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch. Forty-seven people died in the ensuing fire.
The number of crude oil carloads hauled by U.S. railroads surged from 10,840 in 2009 to a projected 400,000 this year.
Despite the increase, the rate of accidents has stayed relatively steady. Railroads say 99.997 percent of hazardous materials shipments reach destinations safely.
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