A North Dakota town was under voluntary evacuation after a train derailment spewed a fireball and left 10-20 train cars burning potentially hazardous smoke through the night.
The one-mile long train was carrying crude oil when it derailed last night. The county sheriff’s office announced that it was “strongly recommending” Casselton residents and those five miles to the south and east to evacuate, according to The Associated Press (AP). A shelter was set up about 25 miles from the site of the explosion.
A change in weather was expected, adding to potential risks. “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. Some 2,400 people reside in Casselton.
At least 10 of the BNSF Railway Co. train’s 100 cars were believed to have caught fire at about 2:30 in the afternoon, according the AP. BNSF Railway Co. indicated that 20 cars were on fire, wrote FoxNews. The intensity of the fire was keeping investigators from getting close enough to count how many train cars were burning.
The fires blazed at dark and were being allowed to burn out. Meanwhile, authorities indicated that they are unable to confirm the cause of the derailment, but did know that a second train that was carrying grain was involved and derailed first, said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth. The derailment caused several crude oil train cars to veer off their tracks, the AP reported.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also indicated that it had initiated a so-called “go-team” to investigate the accident, the AP wrote.
Residents told media they heard explosions and felt heat from the fire about a half-mile away; explosions continued for at least two hours following the incident; area temperatures were below zero. Others said they saw a huge fireball and felt buildings shaking. “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,” Mayor Ed McConnell said, according to the AP.
Health experts are testing air quality in the area, but results are not in, FoxNews reported. “Is it highly hazardous or did most of it burn off in the fire?” Casselton Sheriff Paul Laney said discussing 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, adding, “but we’ve still got plenty of smoke and plenty of fire and plenty of heat,” according to FoxNews. The sheriff reported that the town’s water tower is pretty much covered in soot and expects that black powder will be seen all over town. “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, and when, needed. The North Dakota Department of Health advised residents suffering from respiratory conditions to remain indoors unless advised to leave town.
The train accident rate in North Dakota has remained steady over the past five-six years, according to media reports.