CP Says 240,000 Gallons of Ammonia Spilled in Minot Derailment

MINOT, N.D. -- A Canadian Pacific Railway official announced Wednesday that phase one -- the removal of the 31 derailed freight cars from the immediate derailment site west of Minot -- has been finished.

John Bergene, a public affairs official with CP Rail, told a news conference at the Minot Auditorium that the track has been rebuilt and the first train came through the area at a much restricted speed at about 9:30 Wednesday morning.

Bergene said rail traffic through the area will be irregular for the time being and will be scheduled around the efforts to further clean up the site.

The railroad official said all of the cars have now been moved at least 100 feet away from the derailment spot. He said there are still two tank cars with ammonia in them and it would be transferred to tanker trucks for removal.

He said of the 15 anhydrous tank cars on the train, eight lost their entire contents and five others are intact.

Bergene said the amount of ammonia that escaped from the wrecked tankers was pegged at about 240,000 gallons. He said it was hard to come up with an exact figure on the escaped gas. He added that in his 32 years with the railroad, he had never had a derailment with that much product on board.

Earlier, railroad officials had said as much as 300,000 gallons of ammonia in 10 cars had escaped.

Bergene told the news conference that some of the heavy equipment has already been removed from the scene, as have some of the workers. He said anywhere from 100 to 200 people have been working at the site.

Bergene said phase two, the cleanup, is now under way and will continue for some time. He said the wrecked cars will be cut up and removed. The work of removing the anhydrous that seeped into the ground will continue.

Meanwhile, it was announced that the emergency operations center in the auditorium was closed down at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Health and environmental agencies will continue to operate from there, however.

Figures released Wednesdays indicated that 370 people had been examined at the hospital emergency room and Edison Elementary School. Thirty-two people were admitted to the hospital and four remain. None are still in the intensive care unit.

Thom Mellum, Ward County’s emergency manager, announced that the National Transportation Board team will attend a news conference today to provide additional information on its activities.

Terry O’Clair of the State Health Department said all schools in the affected area have been checked with air monitoring equipment. He said all of the readings were zero.

The Park Board said it has swept and re-iced all of the outdoor skating rinks in the area. There had been some complaints of ammonia smells on clothing of people using the rinks.

O’Clair had bad news Wednesday for residents of the Tierrecita Vallejo neighborhood, where about 20 families there are out of their homes because of the derailment. O’Clair said they won’t be able to move back in for possibly a week. He said he planned to meet with residents of that area Wednesday.

O’Clair said the problem has been "spikes," or elevated levels of ammonia caused by the moving of equipment over the derailment site. When the spikes occur, the cleanup operation is suspended to protect the workers.

Mellum said Wednesday the closure of the emergency operations center marks the end of the emergency response activities, but that authorities will stay alert to any possible change in the situation.