Heimdal, North Dakota, Evacuated After Fiery Oil Train Crash
Jennifer Willis lives a half mile from the derailment site and witnessed the flames. The Wells County Sheriff's office told local news that BNSF has confirmed a train went off the tracks near Heimdal, ND.Jennifer Willis
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By Lisa Riordan Seville, Tracy Connor and Sean Federico-O'Murchu
A tiny North Dakota town was evacuated Wednesday after a train carrying crude oil derailed and several cars burst into flames, local authorities said. It is the latest in a string of explosive oil train derailments that have raised concerns about the large volume of crude moving across America’s tracks.
No injuries have been reported from the derailment of a BNSF train near Heimdal, North Dakota. The town, which in 2010 had a population of 27, has been evacuated, as have farms near the crash site.
"I was in the house at 7:15 a.m. when we thought we heard thunder," witness Jennifer Willis told NBC News.
She went out to the scene, about an eighth of a mile away, and found the area covered in black smoke.
"It was kinda awesome. It's kinda scary to hear it. It was like fireworks going off. You could hear little explosions going off. I sat there for 15 minutes and you could hear it going off," she said.
Fire crews from three nearby towns were called in, and BNSF said it was aware of the incident and cooperating with first responders.
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The train had 107 cars loaded with crude oil and two buffer cars loaded with sand, officials said. Six derailed, and the others were pulled away from the scene to a safe distance.
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a five-person team to the site, and the Federal Railroad Administration dispatched 10 investigators.
"Today's incident is yet another reminder of why we issued a significant, comprehensive rule aimed at improving the safe transport of high hazard flammable liquids," the FRA said in a statement. "The FRA will continue to look at all options available to us to improve safety and mitigate risks."
Last week, federal regulators passed new safety rules governing crude by rail, which has become a booming business thanks to the growth in U.S. oil production. Nearly 450,000 tankers of crude moved through North America last year, up from just 9,500 in 2009.
Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the group Earthjustice, said the rules are too weak and will take too long to take effect.
"We need to get these exploding death trains off the tracks now," Boyles said.
The Heimdal accident comes nearly two years after a tragic oil derailment killed 47 people and destroyed the center of a small Quebec town.
"There are trains pretty much all day going through," Willis said of Heimdal. "A lot of them carry grain and, of course, oil."
Lisa Riordan Seville is a reporter and producer with the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Tracy Connor is a senior writer for NBC News. She started this role in December, 2012. Connor is responsible for reporting and writing breaking news, features and enterprise stories for NBCNews.com. Connor joined NBC News from the New York Daily News, where she was a senior writer covering a broad range of news and supervising the health and immigration beats. Prior to that she was an assistant city editor who oversaw breaking news and the courts and entertainment beats.
Earlier, Connor was a staff writer at the New York Post, United Press International and Brooklyn Paper Publications.
Connor has won numerous awards from journalism organizations including the Deadline Club and the New York Press Club.
She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Seán Federico-O'Murchú is Director of Social Newsgathering for NBC News. He has worked at NBC News, NBCNews.com and its predecessor, msnbc.com, since August 2000, holding a variety of positions, including manager of the home page, East Coast news editor, and International News editor.
Prior to joining msnbc.com, Federico-O'Murchu worked as a senior editor at Bridge News, a sports editor at The New York Post and a desk editor at Agence-France Presse. A native of Ireland, he lives in Montclair, N.J.