updated 10/29/2007 9:23:12 AM ET 2007-10-29T13:23:12

More than 80 cars from two trains derailed early Monday and one car leaked a powerful acid, releasing a vapor cloud that closed schools and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate. No injuries were reported.

More than 350 people were evacuated from the path of the plume of hydrochloric acid vapor and more could be ordered to leave the area, said city administrator Sara Folsted. “We are watching the wind,” she said.

The evacuations from homes and nearby farms on one side of town was a precaution, Mayor Curt Koenen said. “We didn’t take any chances,” he said.

The derailment happened about 4 a.m. when a southbound BNSF Railway train pulled onto a siding and 61 of its cars derailed. That “fouled” the adjacent main line track and caused 22 cars of a northbound train to jump the tracks, said company spokesman Steve Forsberg.

He said the cause of the initial derailment wasn’t known.

Folsted said the derailment ruptured one tanker car. By late morning, a hazardous materials team was removing acid that remained in that car, he said. Officials said crews applied chemicals to neutralize spilled acid.

MACCRAY School District Superintendent Greg Schmit said a firefighter rang his doorbell just after 5 a.m. and told him about the leak. He said he decided to cancel classes because he was told the acid cloud was sitting over the high school parking lot, which also served as a staging area used by buses for the elementary schools in nearby towns.

Hydrochloric acid is highly corrosive and can cause burns if it comes into direct contact with skin or eyes.

Clara City, with a population of about 1,340, is in western Minnesota 100 miles west of Minneapolis.

Chemical leak in Ky. town
Elsewhere, an elementary school and nearby homes were evacuated because of a leak of anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer, at a town in western Kentucky. Paramedics administered oxygen to six people in Herndon but there were no serious injuries, said Christian County emergency operations center director Dee Hopper.

Officials were notified of the leak from a 30,000-gallon tank that had ruptured at the Agri-Chem company in Herndon around 6:23 a.m. CT, Hopper said. The leak was contained by midmorning, Hopper said.

Students at the nearby South Christian Elementary school were evacuated and residents of homes within one mile of the plant were told to leave as a precaution, Hopper said. There was no immediate word how many children were involved.

Burglars may have caused the chemical leak, officials said. The chemical is used as a fertilizer, but it also is an ingredient in methamphetamine.

State police and fire officials found that the fence surrounding the tank had been cut, and a valve looked like someone had tampered with it, the company said.

“It looks like two people; we found their clothes,” said Agri-Chem President Wayne Hunt. “They actually left their clothes in the field. They’re burned so they’ll be in a hospital more than likely around here.”

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