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Explosions rock North Dakota town

Train carrying crude oil derails, residents advised to evacuate

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A fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D. The 2,400 residents have been urged to evacuate.

BRUCE CRUMMY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

A fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D. The 2,400 residents have been urged to evacuate.

CASSELTON, N.D. -- Authorities urged residents to evacuate a small North Dakota town Monday night after a 1.6-kilometre-long train carrying crude oil derailed outside of town, shaking residents with a series of explosions that sent flames and black smoke skyward.

The Cass County sheriff's office said it was "strongly recommending" people in the town of Casselton and anyone living eight kilometres to the south and east evacuate. A shelter has been set up in Fargo, which is about 40 km away. Casselton has about 2,400 residents.

The sheriff's office said the National Weather Service was forecasting a shift in the weather that could increase the risk of potential health hazards.

"That's going to put the plume right over the top of Casselton," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said at a news briefing.

As many as 10 cars out of more than 100 caught fire when the BNSF Railway Co. train left the tracks about 2:30 p.m. Monday. No one was hurt.

The cars were still burning as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out.

Authorities hadn't yet been able to determine exactly how the derailment happened, but a second train carrying grain was involved. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks.

Ryan Toop, who lives about 800 metres away, said he heard explosions and drove as close as about two city blocks to the fire, which erupted on a day when temperatures were -18 C.

"I rolled down the window, and you could literally keep your hands warm," Toop said.

The derailment happened amid increased concerns about the United States' increased reliance on rail to carry crude oil. Fears of catastrophic derailments were particularly stoked after last July's crash in a Quebec town of a runaway train carrying crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken oil patch. Forty-seven people died in the ensuing fire.

The tracks the train was on Monday pass through the middle of Casselton, and Cass County Sheriff's Sgt. Tara Morris said it was "a blessing it didn't happen within the city."

The train had more than 100 cars, and about 80 of them were moved away from the site.

Morris said it could take up to 12 hours before authorities could get close to the fire. Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said the National Guard was on alert if needed.

Temperatures were forecast to drop to -29 C in Cass County overnight.

"Of course, Mother Nature, being North Dakota, it has to be one of the coldest nights of the year. It's deadly cold out there tonight," Laney said.

Mayor Ed McConnell said he didn't want any residents sleeping in their vehicles.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2013 A12

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