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Four injured, anhydrous leaking after train-semi accident

Emergency crews Tuesday morning, May 7, 2013, spray the accident scene of a train and a semi-tractor trailer carrying anhydrous ammonia west of Murdock, Minn. This photo of the scene looking southward across U.S. Highway 12 toward the BNSF Railway tracks and the Koch Nitrogen plant. Highway 12 traffic was being detoured around the scene via county roads. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

MURDOCK — Four people were treated at the Swift County-Benson Hospital for inhalation of anhydrous ammonia, and two were subsequently transported by air ambulance following a semi-truck and train accident Tuesday morning west of Murdock, the Swift County Sheriff’s Office reported.

The driver of the semi and trailer rig was transported to the hospital in Benson and airlifted. There was no report on his condition or identity, and there was no further information about any of the injured.

Anhydrous ammonia leaking from the damaged tank being pulled by the truck forced the closing of U.S. Highway 12 west of Murdock. It also led the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg Schools to evacuate elementary students in Murdock to the high school in Kerkhoven as a precaution.

Swift County Sheriff John Holtz said Tuesday evening that the highway was likely to be closed into the night hours, and possibly all night, depending on the progress at the site.

Emergency crews were working to end the threat posed as anhydrous ammonia continued to leak at the accident site, which was near the Koch Nitrogen Co. fertilizer terminal west of Murdock along U.S. Highway 12.

The collision occurred around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the intersection of 60th Street Southeast and Highway 12. A 102-car train with three locomotives was proceeding east at the site and the truck was proceeding north when the engine struck the rear end of the truck.

The train was carrying oil from a site west of Minot, N.D., and on its way to Missouri, according to Amy McBeth, BNSF Railway spokeswoman. She said a three-person crew on the train were taken to a hospital for observation and released.

The train cars did not derail. The railroad believes there was only minor damage to the train and that it will be able to continue to its destination after an inspection.

Two Koch Nitrogen employees and two third-party truck drivers were present at the facility near where the accident occurred, and they immediately evacuated, according to Paul Baltzer, Koch spokesman. One of the drivers was taken to a medical facility for observation and has been released. Others present at the terminal did not suffer any injuries and returned to the terminal after the “all clear” was given by first responders at approximately 9:30 a.m., he said.

Murdock Fire Chief Patrick Wilke said the volunteer firefighters from the area were trucking water to the site to keep a continuous spray of water on the leaking tank. He estimated that by mid-afternoon they had hauled 60,000 gallons of water.

The damaged tank held an estimated 9,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia. A hazardous materials team from Morris was at the site and was attempting to move the anhydrous ammonia from the damaged tank to another.

There are no residences located near the site, but law officers urged everyone to stay more than two miles from the site.

KMS Superintendent Martin Heidelberger said the decision to move the kindergarten through sixth-grade elementary students to Kerkhoven was made as a precaution shortly after the school was notified of the accident. The sixth-grade class was on a visit to the state Capitol, but there were still nearly 300 students and school staff to transport.

The students were brought to the high school auditorium in Kerkhoven and viewed a short movie as faculty held a huddle to plan the day.The students were treated to a picnic lunch in the gymnasium. The gymnasium, commons area and auditorium provided room to hold classes.

“Some learning still took place,” said Heidelberger. “The kids thought it was great.”

The school was not able to send two buses on routes that would have gone within two miles of the accident site. The parents of those children were contacted and picked up the students at the school.

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