'Quite a blast': With town evacuated, explosion of burning propane tank felt miles away
CALLAWAY, Minn. - The dust is now settling in the tiny town of Callaway, as residents make their way back into their homes and crews begin cleaning up the tangled mess of metal left behind after an explosion shot a ball of flames into the air lat...
CALLAWAY, Minn. - The dust is now settling in the tiny town of Callaway, as residents make their way back into their homes and crews begin cleaning up the tangled mess of metal left behind after an explosion shot a ball of flames into the air late Thursday night.
The propane-fueled explosion, which was heard and felt many miles away, came 10 hours after a propane tanker truck and a train collided on the tracks on the south side of Callaway, derailing the train and setting the stage for a dangerous situation. The tanker itself held 9,500 gallons of propane, and there was another propane storage tank with an additional 10,000 gallons sitting at the town's grain elevator less than 30 yards away. The Becker County Sheriff's Department, with the assistance of several law enforcement agencies from around the area, went door to door to evacuate every one of the town's 200 residents for fear of an explosion.
Nearly 200 firefighters tried desperately to keep the leaking tanker cooled off with water in an attempt to let the flames burn the propane off without it exploding, but despite the 1 million gallons of water estimated to have been used throughout those 10 hours, it wasn't enough.
"At approximately 10:17 p.m. there was a complete failure of the propane tank, causing an explosion," Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander said at a press conference Friday morning. "We are lucky that nobody was injured in the event."
Although fire crews had their trucks set up nearly 1,000 feet from the accident, they felt it when the tanker blew.
"It was quite a blast," said Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Scott Flynn, who was on the scene. "It didn't knock you off your feet or anything, but it was a pretty good blast."
It was a blast that shook businesses and houses several miles away.
"We were sitting on the floor of our living room watching a movie, and all of a sudden it was just like … boom," said Jennifer Smith, who lives seven miles east of Callaway. "The house and the windows just shook - I thought somebody rammed their truck into our house."
Smith says they ran outside to see what was going on.
"And my husband says, 'You don't suppose that was the tanker in Callaway?' And my stomach just dropped," she said, knowing how many firefighters were on the scene.
But according to Callaway Fire Chief Keith Heinlein, no significant damage appears to have been done to the city's nearby grain elevator or nearby housing.
According to a spokesman with Canadian Pacific, traffic has resumed on the tracks, although until more assessments are done, the rail traffic will be kept at low speeds. For drivers, Highway 59 reopened around 10 a.m. Friday when residents were let back into the city.
The burning question that most have regarding why the tanker truck was on the tracks at the time of the crash is one that investigators with Becker County and the Federal Railroad Administration are now investigating.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will meet with representatives of the railroad, community and elected officials Saturday, March 26,
In the initial crash, the driver of the tanker truck, 31-year-old Biya Abdella Buta of Mandan, N.D., was not injured, while two train crew members suffered minor injuries. They were treated at Essentia St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes and released.
"It's been a long day, short night, but everybody came through this," said Glander, who says he didn't get much sleep during the night, thinking about how bad this could have been. "It could have been so much worse; we are so grateful for the outcome."