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North Dakota Train Derailment may Lead to Potential Breathing and Air Hazards

Dec 31, 2013

A town in North Dakota was under voluntary evacuation following a train derailment that led to explosions, fires, and potentially hazardous smoke.

The train, described as one-mile long and carrying crude oil, derailed last night; the county sheriff’s office was “strongly recommending” that residents in the town of Casselton and those five miles to the south and east evacuate, according to The Associated Press (AP). A shelter was set up about 25 miles from the explosion,

With a change in weather approaching, increased risks are expected. "That's going to put the plume right over the top of Casselton," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said at a news briefing, the AP reported. Casselton is home to some 2,400 residents.

Of the BNSF Railway Co. train’s 100 cars, at least 10 caught fire at around 2:30 in the afternoon, according the AP. BNSF Railway Co. indicated that it believed 20 cars caught fire, wrote FoxNews. Because of the intensity of the fire, investigators were unable to get close enough to count exactly how many cars were burning.

The fires continued to blaze after the sun went down, and were being allowed to burn out. Meanwhile, authorities have not yet determined how the derailment occurred, but did know that a second train carrying grain was involved and derailed first, according to BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth. The derailment knocked several crude oil train cars off their tracks, the AP reported.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched a so-called “go-team" to investigate the accident, the AP wrote.

Residents reported hearing explosions and feeling heat from the fire about a half-mile away; explosions were heard for at least two hours after the initial incident. Temperatures were below zero. Others described seeing a huge fireball and feeling buildings shake. Mayor Ed McConnell said, "All the experts say it can be a hazardous situation to their health…. We're going to try to get everybody out of the town," according to the AP.

Health experts are testing air quality in the area, FoxNews reported; results are not yet in. "Is it highly hazardous or did most of it burn off in the fire?" Casselton Sheriff Paul Laney said of the burning crude oil. "We just don't know,” he told FoxNews.

Sheriff's Deputy Joe Crawford said the fire died down during the night, noting, "but we've still got plenty of smoke and plenty of fire and plenty of heat," according to FoxNews. The sheriff said that the town’s water tower was, for the most part, covered in soot and expects to see black powder town-wide. "Wait until you see the footprints in the snow later on," he said. "That's the stuff coming out of the sky."

Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Governor Jack Dalrymple, said the National Guard was on alert if needed and The North Dakota Department of Health advised residents who suffer from respiratory conditions to remain inside unless they are advised to leave town.

The train accident rate in North Dakota has remained steady over the past five-six years, according to media reports.

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