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SD Officials Can Learn From ND Derailment

December 31, 2013, 4:35 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

SD Officials Can Learn From ND Derailment

It happened in North Dakota and emergency officials know it could also happen here.

South Dakota has more than 1,800 miles of railroad, and a train derailment which led to dangerous explosions Monday near Casselton, North Dakota, is a dramatic reminder of what can go wrong on the rail lines that run through rural communities in the state.

"All these things with the energy needs of the country have the potential to impact our communities significantly if we're not prepared," Minnehaha County Emergency Manager Lynn DeYoung said.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway officials say about 20 cars carrying crude oil caught fire Monday, causing dangerous and dramatic explosions after the derailment.

While it may look like a major disaster, DeYoung says it’s fortunate that the incident didn't happen as the train was passing through the small North Dakota town. The mayor of Casselton says if the derailment had happened in town, it's likely that dozens of people would have been killed.

"I would say this is probably the best place to have an incident. It's outside a community but still within an area where they have available resources," DeYoung said.

Because it was not in town, officials are letting the fire burn out. However, if something like this happens in a town, DeYoung says emergency responders would try to put the fire out. DeYoung says there are two specialized trailers in Minnehaha County to use on oil fires just like the one near Casselton.

"The City of Sioux Falls developed a foam trailer and then we developed one out in the county that carries specialized nozzles, hoses and foam and can be used to put those hydrocarbon fires out if and when they do occur," DeYoung said.

Minnehaha County emergency crews have held at least two train derailment drills in the past four years and as the fire burns out in North Dakota, South Dakota officials plan to ask those emergency crews to talk about their response with crews here.

"We're definitely going to look at the potential for lessons learned, what they did right, what they did wrong, how it's affected their community," DeYoung said.

And with hundreds of miles of track running through South Dakota, officials are always mindful that a similar incident could also happen in any community here.

The evacuation recommendation for Casselton was lifted Tuesday afternoon.

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