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ND residents evacuate

BY SUSAN KIM | MINOT, ND | January 18, 2002

Residents near Minot, ND evacuated their homes Friday after a derailed train sent a cloud of anhydrous ammonia over the area.

Early Friday morning many residents reported their eyes were burning and that they smelled ammonia. One person was killed. About 150 people sought treatment at Trinity Medical Center, and six were still in intensive care Friday afternoon.

Anhydrous ammonia, an ingredient commonly used in fertilizer, is a particularly noxious gas. It irritates the respiratory system and causes a chemical burn if it comes into contact with skin. It freezes clothing to the body and sucks moisture from the eyes.

Friday afternoon officials were still trying to assess how much gas had leaked. Dozens of people were given oxygen and had their eyes flushed with water at temporary public shelters. Temperatures hovered near zero, with wind chills of 30 below. The accident knocked out power to parts of Minot and nearby Burlington.

About 40 homes were evacuated, most in a suburban residential area called Tarracito Vallejo. Emergency sirens warned residents.

The derailment happened around 2 a.m. Friday. Five tanker cars of a Canadian Pacific Railway train jumped the track. The cause of the accident was not known.

The Burlington Baptist Church was open as both a shelter and a medical clinic. Burlington is about seven miles from Minot. The Salvation Army and American Red Cross were attending to people's immediate needs. Other shelters were open at the Edison Elementary School and the Minot Air Force Base.

Residents remained very concerned because some heard that, if the wind changed direction, Burlington would have to be evacuated as well.

The person who died was a member of Christ Lutheran Church. A 12-year-old girl who was hospitalized attended First Lutheran Church.

John Glibota, chief deputy of the Ward County Sheriff's Department, said that response was multi-faceted. "We've got the Red Cross, the fire departments, ambulance services, state emergency response, the railroads, The Salvation Army, and local churches," he said. "There's a lot of people still assessing the problem and a lot of people responding."

The train wreck was situated in a difficult area to reach, with a river on one side and an old gravel pit on the other.

Area schools were closed Friday.

Those who were still in their homes were warned to shut off their furnaces and place damp clothes over entrances. They were also urged to breathe through a towel.

Minot, home to 36,000 people, is about 100 miles north of Bismarck.

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