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Dozens of railcars pile up, catch fire after derailment in Iowa town; evacuations ordered due to ammonium nitrate cargo

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A train derailed in the far northwest Iowa town of Sibley on Sunday afternoon, leading authorities to order evacuations in the area out of concern about ammonium nitrate carried by the trains.

Aerial video of the scene showed dozens of train cars piled up and flames and a large plume of black smoke rising from the front of the pileup. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Sibley, a town of about 3,000 people in Osceola County, is roughly 200 miles northwest of Des Moines.

The N'West Iowa REVIEW reported that the derailment happened around 2 p.m., and a 5-mile radius was evacuated.

The derailment happened on a Union Pacific railroad, according to information from the Iowa Department of Transportation website.

Union Pacific spokeswoman Robynn Tysver told The Associated Press that 47 railcars came off the tracks, but the crew was not injured. She said the railroad is working with authorities, and the cause of the derailment is under investigation.

Nate Minten of Sibley said he was at his mother’s house when the derailment happened to the south, at the edge of town. He posted drone footage of the train car pileup on his Facebook page.

“I could see smoke filling up a couple hundred feet at least,” Minten said. “We didn’t hear any bangs or anything.”

Minten said smoke was still visible hundreds of feet in the air from his mother’s home as of 4:30 p.m. Sunday. He said he got an emergency text about an evacuation order for Sibley.

There was a chemical smell in the air around 5 p.m., said Jared VanderVeen, who was visiting family Sunday. Authorities blocked off all roads into town, he said.

Robin Eggink and her husband, Scott, from Vinton, were visiting family and eating at a Pizza Hut outside Sibley early Sunday afternoon when they noticed the train slowing down. Eggink said the train stopped – they assumed for some equipment or a break. After a few minutes, she and her family noticed a big cloud of smoke as they left the restaurant. Her husband drove them near the site to see what was going on.

“The fire trucks started coming around and telling everyone we have to evacuate,” Eggink said.

The train derailment happened over a bridge that collapsed, Eggink said. She said the train was split in two, on different sides of the bridge.

What is ammonium nitrate?

Sibley Fire Chief Ken Huls told KIWA radio the train was hauling fertilizer and ammonium nitrate, a common, highly explosive chemical compound used to make fertilizers, explosives, matches and pyrotechnics, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information .

The material does not readily burn but will do so if it's contaminated with combustible material, according to the biotech library, and will accelerate the burning of combustible material. If it combusts, ammonium nitrate will produce toxic oxides of nitrogen.

The derailment happened one day after 28 of 50 cars on a Union Pacific train were overturned Saturday in Albert Lea, southern Minnesota.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Dozens of railcars pile up, catch fire after derailment in Iowa town; evacuations ordered due to ammonium nitrate cargo

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