“Like a Mushroom Cloud” Casselton Reflects On Derailment of 2013

CASSELTON, N.D.

Three years ago, an oil train derailed and exploded about a half mile away from Casselton.

In a time where many are concerned about the safe transport of crude oil, the people in town are reflecting on what happened.

“It was like a mushroom cloud,” said Greg Kempel of Casselton, describing the explosion.

It was just another day at work for Mayor Lee Anderson before a westbound train derailed.

“I had someone walk into the lumber yard and said, ‘What do you think about that train wreck? So we walked out the door into our driveway, looked to the west and one of the train cars exploded,” Casselton Mayor Lee Anderson said.

Within two minutes, an eastbound oil train hit the westbound train, derailing 18 oil cars which ruptured and exploded.

“It did that a couple times… you could feel the shock,” Anderson said.

Nobody was hurt, and property damage was minimal.

The explosions went off about a half mile west of town, adjacent to a public park and close to a school.

With the temperature at negative one, the park was empty.

School was out for Christmas vacation.

People say if it were just a little bit closer, it could have been a lot worse.

“It could have wiped out the whole town. I remember Mayor Walaker was very concerned too that something like that could happen in Fargo. Imagine something like that happening on Broadway. It’s scary,” Kempel said.

Reports say the train crew set up a command post a quarter mile from the accident, but had to move further away because of how hot the fire was.

About 450,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil was released.

The southern half of town to evacuated to Fargo overnight amid massive clouds of smoke and fumes.

“When you start getting oil, especially that crude and who knows what else burning, it didn’t make any sense to stay,” Anderson said.

He tells us it’s important to remember what happened.

It caused people to seriously think about how we transport oil and the local government to boost safety measures.

“For Casselton, it made the BNSF come in and take a serious look at the tracks coming through town,” Anderson said.

He says more safety measures continue to be implemented more than seven miles east and west of town.

“This was not the first derailment, it won’t be the last around here,” Kempel said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation predicts more than 200 oil trains will derail nationwide over the next 20 years.

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