Minot train derailment
The Minot Train Derailment occurred just outside of Minot, North Dakota, on 18 January 2002, when a Canadian Pacific Railway freight train derailed in Harrison Township in Ward County, west of Minot, spilling hazardous materials.
About 2:30 a.m. local time, 30 cars of a Canadian Pacific train derailed about four miles west of the city center, in a development called Terracita Vallejo. Tanker cars carrying anhydrous ammonia ruptured, releasing a cloud of caustic, poisonous gas over the city. The gas killed at least one person, and injured around a hundred more. Soon after the derailment, a large area around the derailed train was evacuated, and residents in the remainder of the city were told to stay indoors.
According to the dispatchers, residents were supposed to close doors and windows, boil water and cover their faces with wet cloths to counteract the ammonia.
Emergency response to the disaster was disorganized, as due to the time of the incident (very early in the morning) all local radio stations, operated by Clear Channel, were staffed at limited levels, given automation systems were used at many of these stations to provide programming. The city's radio based Emergency Alert System although not activated at the time of the event, was found later in an investigation by both local officials and the Federal Communications Commission to be completely operable. However, other emergency warning systems throughout Minot at the time were inoperable or failed. This included the public siren system which failed during the event and the 911 telephone system which became overloaded. The Emergency Alert System, tied to local radio stations, was functional at the time of the event but was not activated by the proper authorities. The EAS system, outside its connection to emergency management personnel is a completely automated system. Thus, there is no need for a human operator within a radio station to be present at the time of activation of this system. Additionally, the system employed in Minot that night could not have been activated manually by station personnel because of standard protocol dictating that the initiation of an EAS alert must originate with emergency management officials only. Also, the digital code for activation of the system can be sent from a variety of official state and regional sources from outside the immediate area of the emergency. The National Weather service is an example of one of these sources. However, these alternate activation points were not accessed by local emergency managers.
As a result of the confusion, no formal emergency warnings were issued for several hours while Minot officials located station managers at home. The incident has been cited as an example of the physical dangers of media consolidation and the currently prevalent cost-cutting measure of not keeping overnight staff at stations. Even without activation of the Emergency Alert System, a live announcer would still have been able to warn citizens of the emergency via the traditional means of the broadcast signal and an on-air microphone. As local stations were running in automated mode, there was nobody on-site to interrupt programming and issue warnings concerning the disaster.
By the morning of the 18th, the cloud was dissipating, but covered a wider area of the city. Governor John Hoeven arrived on a North Dakota National Guard helicopter to survey the disaster, landing near Dakota Square Mall for a brief press conference.
Coverage and aftermath
The derailment made national news in the United States and Canada, though the CP involvement perhaps encouraged broader coverage in the latter. CBC reporters were on the scene the day of the disaster, and filed reports on the aftermath on the national news programs throughout the week, while ABC News provided only a short clip the day of the disaster.
Cleanup operations began around 24 hours after the wreck, as soon as the gas cloud had dissipated enough to allow workers to safely get near the train. As part of the operations, CP removed ammonia-contaminated ice from the Souris River to avoid further environmental damage.
After the disaster, CP opened a claims office in Minot to avoid a larger lawsuit. Residents were offered several hundred dollars as a settlement, waiving their rights to pursue a claim in court.
Following the incident, the Minot city council imposed a speed limit on trains passing through the city.
- "Minot train derailment kills one, injures dozens". CBC. 18 January 2002.
- "EXCLUSIVE... 911 Calls in North Dakota Town Reveal Dangers of Media Consolidation". Democracy Now. 25 January 2007.
- "Reconsidering Minot and EAS". NewBay Media. Retrieved 2010-10-12.
- Klinenberg, Eric. Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media. Holt: New York, 2008.
- "Railroad Accident Report: Derailment of Canadian Pacific Railway Freight Train 292-16 and Subsequent Release of Anhydrous Ammonia". U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved 2012-09-20.
- "Derailment of Canadian Pacific Railway Freight Train 292-16 and Subsequent Release of Anhydrous Ammonia Near Minot, North Dakota January 18, 2002" (PDF). U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved 2012-09-20.