HEIMDAL, N.D. -- The small North Dakota community of Heimdal and surrounding farmsteads have been evacuated after an oil tanker train derailed Wednesday morning.
Wells County Emergency Manager Tammy Roehrich said the BNSF Railway oil tanker train derailed about 7:30 a.m. about a mile and half east of Heimdal. Heimdal is about 80 miles southeast of Minot.
Cecily Fong, public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, reported there were 10 tanker cars on fire, though Roehrich reported six cars on fire.
Fong said the engine and cars not on fire have been decoupled and moved to safety.
No injuries or fatalities have been reported, Fong said.
Roehrich said she couldn’t get close enough to the train to see whether it was exploding or just burning. “It looks a lot like Casselton,” she said, referring to the fiery train wreck of oil tankers near Casselton in late 2013.
Roehrich said there were 109 cars in the train.
Wells County 911 Director and Deputy Sheriff Janelle Pepple said the the sky was black with smoke near the derailment site.
The eastbound unit train, hauling oil tankers, derailed just a quarter-mile east of Heimdal, according to Everett Johnson, whose farm is 1.5 miles east of Heimdal.
Everett Johnson, whose farm is 1.5 miles east of Heimdal, said he drove to within half a mile of the site earlier today and saw heavy black smoke pouring from the wreck. Although his home is close to the derailment, a hill blocks his view of the site.
"The wind's blowing from the southwest to the northeast, so it's not affecting the town of Heimdal," he said. "It's drizzling and raining, so that's a good thing."
The cars that derailed were toward the rear end of the train, he said. The decoupled section was pulled further east.
"It's kind of a slough area," Johnson said.
The train was operating on the BNSF Railway line in Wells County in central North Dakota, said Fong, adding about 40 people were evacuated from Heimdal.
The 2010 Census reported 27 people living in Heimdal and 21 residents in Hamburg, about 19 miles to the east. Both are in northeastern Wells County.
A statement from BNSF Railway said the tank cars involved in the incident, which are targeted for phase-out by 2020 under new federal safety rules announced last Friday.
A statement from Sarah Feinberg, Acting Federal Railroad Administrator said the agency has deployed a 10 person investigation team to the site.
“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 will continue to look at all options available to us to improve safety and mitigate risks," Feinberg said in the statement.
Ron Reimche, a school bus driver for the Harvey School District, said he crossed the same train tracks a few miles away from the scene shortly before the crash was reported. He had been on his way to Esmond to pick up his first student of the day.
“I meet the trains every so often at that crossing,” said Reimche, adding that he makes sure to stop well back from the train tracks on his route. “In my opinion, they ought to hurry and get that pipeline in.”
Emergency crews from several fire departments in the region and hazardous materials teams from Devils Lake and Grand Forks responded to the derailment.
In addition to HAZMAT teams from Devils Lake and Grand Forks, the state Highway Patrol and firefighters from Harvey, Fessenden, Hamburg and Devils Lake have been dispatched.
This is a developing story. Please check back for details.