Residents of Raymond have been allowed to return to their homes after a train carrying ethanol and corn syrup derailed early Thursday morning and caught fire, leading to hundreds of evacuations.
It happened at around 1 a.m. on the western edge of the approximately 800-resident town, located around 15 miles southwest of Willmar and about two hours west of the Twin Cities.
A statement from BNSF Railway says nobody was hurt when the 22 cars derailed and the company now has field personnel at the site, working with local responders to mitigate the incident.
However, after the cars derailed, several carrying ethanol, a highly flammable liquid, caught fire and remained on fire as of noon. Chopper 5 captured aerial footage of the scene throughout the morning.
Kandiyohi County Sheriff Eric Tolleffson said knowing what was on the train helped officials make quick decisions.
“We knew very quickly what was on the train and we knew that there was no great hazard,” Sheriff Tollefson said. “But they recommended an evacuation area that was a half-mile from the fire and, well, that’s all of Raymond.”
Authorities knocked on hundreds of doors overnight to help evacuate residents and a site was set up at Unity Christian Reformed Church in nearby Prinsburg. That’s where local authorities also requested any snacks or water be dropped off for community members, and a site for monetary donations was also created online under the Willmar Area Response Fund. Additionally, the Red Cross responded to help support shelter needs for residents and canteen relief for responders.
About 150 people were there just after 7 a.m. Thursday. Evacuees were previously gathering at Central Minnesota Christian School, also in Prinsburg.
The evacuation order was officially lifted at around 11:45 a.m., allowing residents to return home.
RELATED: Minnesota leaders respond to train derailment that caused evacuation in Raymond
Gov. Tim Walz visited the site Thursday morning and spoke at a press conference alongside BNSF leaders and local authorities at the church. The governor noted the state is ready to help and several state agencies had already responded to the site. He also said the state was in contact with federal officials and he’d talked to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
BNSF Vice President of Operations Matt Garland said the company’s experts deemed the area safe but it’s expected to take at least a few days to clean up the crash site. The company’s CEO, Katie Farmer, also spoke and said BNSF takes responsibility for the derailment.
“We apologize for this, we take full accountability for it and we’ll continue to be here until this is cleaned up,” Farmer said. “Certainly, I think we’re hearing more about derailments in the wake of East Palestine, and 99.99% of all hazardous commodities get moved to destination without incident. … So we are very safe, we are very effective movement of hazardous commodities as well as all commodities.”
Residents impacted by the derailment are being urged to call BNSF for help at 866-243-4784.
The Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office says road detours will remain in place around the site as local responders and BNSF personnel continue work to mitigate the incident. It’s not yet clear when the main track will reopen or what caused the derailment, which remains under investigation.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety stated that initial reports suggest eight cars were directly involved in the derailment, four containing corn syrup and four containing ethanol. The department adds that there are no requests for hazmat teams at this time, but the State Fire Marshal sent a fire service specialist to help extinguish the blaze.
The National Transportation Safety Board says its team investigating the derailment is expected to arrive at the scene Thursday afternoon.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Tweeted that its crew members are also responding to the incident.
Rep. Baker shared the following written statement after the derailment:
“First of all, I am grateful that this tragic situation has not resulted in any injuries or fatalities. We all owe a debt of gratitude to our first responders who reacted quickly to evacuate the area and made sure residents could be moved to safety. I would also like to thank the generous residents of Prinsburg and the Central Minnesota Christian School for stepping up and making sure that the evacuated had a place to go. Moving forward, I remain in constant contact with city, county, state, and federal officials to make sure that the community has the support they need.”
Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach (R-MN 7th District) also released a written statement:
“Thanks to the quick work by first responders assisting the Raymond community, I am told the fire is under control and there have been no injuries. My team is on the ground with local officials and will work to assist in every way we can.”
State Senator Andrew Lang (R-Olivia) released a statement that can be read below:
“Thank you to the first responders who acted quickly to address the situation and ensure everyone in and around the Raymond community is safe and accounted for. We must also recognize and thank surrounding communities and local organizations who immediately stepped up to ensure every displaced person has a place to go as the situation gets resolved. I plan to be out there today, willing to offer any assistance necessary.”
This is a developing story, and updates will continue to be provided on air and online as more information becomes available.
Click the video link above for team coverage.