Ammonia gas leaking after North Dakota train derailment; residents evacuated; one dead

Friday, January 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINOT, N.D. (AP) _ A train derailed west of this North Dakota city early Friday, sending a cloud of anhydrous ammonia gas over the area, killing one resident and forcing others to evacuate.

Dozens of people were being given oxygen or having their eyes flushed with water at temporary public shelters.

The person who died ``was found outside of his house, close to the proximity of the crash site,'' Ward County Sheriff Vern Erck said. He said he did not have details.

Three people were admitted to Trinity Hospital with respiratory problems and 24 others were brought to the emergency room, hospital spokesman Randy Schwan said.

The accident happened at about 1:40 a.m., when five cars of a 112-car Canadian Pacific Railway train derailed, railroad spokeswoman Laura Baenen said. The cause of the derailment was not known, and Baenen said officials were trying to assess how much anhydrous ammonia leaked.

Minot, population 36,000, is about 100 miles north of Bismarck.

With temperatures hovering around 5 below zero, Paul Behm, who owns a truck stop near the derailment site, put a moist towel over his nose and mouth and went knocking on doors to make sure friends living nearby were not hurt.

``The cloud had started kind of enveloping the truck stop area,'' Behm said. ``It smells just like ammonia cleaner, only higher concentrate.''

State emergency manager Doug Friez said some people were evacuated, but did not say how many. The derailment also knocked out power to parts of Minot and neighborhing Burlington, Baenen said.

Anhydrous ammonia, which is used as a fertilizer, can irritate the nose and throat. Authorities did not say how long the cloud might be over the city.

Those who were not evacuated were being told to stay in their homes, shut off their furnaces and place damp cloths over entrances to their homes if necessary, Gov. John Hoeven said.

An elementary school was set up as one of the public shelters, and about 67 to 70 people gathered there.

``People don't seem to be panicking, which is good,'' Police Chief Dan Draovitch said. ``We're just waiting for it to dissipate.''