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Minnesota Homes Evacuated After Toxic Train Derailment

A train hauling ethanol and other materials was derailed Thursday morning in Raymond, Minnesota, causing a fire to break out and forcing nearby residents to evacuate. Preliminary reports from the scene, and a statement from Lena Kent, general director of public affairs for BNSF Railway, say that fourteen of the train’s forty cars were carrying hazardous materials. According to the local sheriff’s office, the derailment happened around 1 AM, and homes within half a mile were evacuated due to concerns over ethanol burning. Ethanol exposure can lead to coughing, dizziness, the feeling of burning eyes, and a plethora of other undesirable side effects. The leading cause of Thursday morning’s derailment is under investigation. Like many other train spills and accidents over the past few months, Americans will have to wait to discover what’s behind this deadly onslaught of train derailments.

CNN: A train carrying highly flammable ethanol derails in Minnesota, sparking an hourslong fire. Now 4 more cars with ethanol could spill

By Holly Yan, Tina Burnside & Caroll Alvarado; March 30, 2023

A train hauling ethanol derailed Thursday morning in Raymond, Minnesota, igniting several rail cars and forcing a mandatory evacuation of the city of about 800, officials said.

The fire was still burning more than 8 hours after the derailment, the US Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement late Thursday morning.

“Four cars containing ethanol, a highly flammable product, ruptured, caught fire and continue to burn,” said the EPA, which had members at the scene by 6:30 a.m.

And there’s a risk that more ethanol could spill.

“Four additional cars containing ethanol may also release,” the EPA said. “The local fire department is currently the lead for the response and ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city. The evacuation remains in place.”

The EPA team is on the ground in Raymond to conduct air quality monitoring.

Preliminary information suggests 14 of the train’s 40 cars were carrying hazardous material, “including ethanol, which was released – leading to a fire,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN on Thursday.

In addition to ethanol, the train was carrying mixed freight including corn syrup, said Lena Kent, general director of public affairs for BNSF Railway.

Ethanol can explode when mixed with vapor and air. Ethanol exposure can lead to coughing, dizziness, the feeling of burning eyes, drowsiness and unconsciousness.

The derailment happened around 1 a.m. Homes within a half-mile of the derailment were evacuated, the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office said.

“There have been no injuries as a result of the crash or emergency response,” the sheriff’s office posted on Facebook. “BNSF specialists are on scene and continued mitigation is occurring.”

Brittney Phelps and her family were startled by a knock on their door at 1:30 a.m. It was a first responder going door to door telling residents to flee as a precaution.

“I heard a loud crash but didn’t think anything of it ‘til ambulances were outside the house,” Phelps said.

She soon smelled the stench of ethanol and saw the wrecked train cars and large fire, Phelps told CNN.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation closed a nearby highway due to the derailment and blaze, the fire department said. The main railroad track is blocked, and an estimated time for reopening the line was not available.

“The City of Raymond is not accessible to the public, so Unity Church in Prinsburg is willing to be a drop off location for bottled water and snacks for the firemen,” the wife of a fire department member said, according to the department’s Facebook page. “These brave souls have been working hard for hours already, and have several hours of work ahead for them.”

The cause of the derailment is under investigation. A team from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected to arrive at the site Thursday afternoon, the NTSB said.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and state emergency management leadership will travel to Raymond on Thursday to visit the site of the derailment, the governor’s office said.

The derailment happened nearly two months after another train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio – igniting a dayslong inferno, spewing poisonous fumes into the air and killing thousands of fish. The Ohio health department is preparing to offer health tests to first responders as part of a long-term effort to monitor the health of those who responded to the disaster.

Photo: KARE

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