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Highway 12 detour to remain in place, but cleanup progressing at accident site

MURDOCK -- Traffic will continue to be detoured around a portion of U.S. Highway 12 between Murdock and DeGraff for a few more days, possibly until Sunday, while anhydrous ammonia from a damaged tanker is safely removed.

The situation is under control, but authorities are being careful to prevent any risk to the public or workers at the site of the semi-truck and train collision that happened Tuesday morning, reported the Swift County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff John Holtz and Murdock Fire Department Chief Pat Wilke reported Wednesday that there is minimal public danger and that activities in the area are normal.

However, the Koch Fertilizer terminal at the site will not be opened until the truck and tanker are removed.

The Murdock Fire Department and hazardous materials teams are relieving pressure from the anhydrous ammonia tank damaged in the accident. A patch on the tank allows the escaping anhydrous ammonia to be transferred into a separate tank holding water, turning it into aqua-ammonia. The solution does not pose the same risks as anhydrous ammonia.

The accident Tuesday morning occurred as Eric Westin of Pine City, a licensed hazardous material hauler with Jensen Transport Inc., was leaving the Koch Nitrogen Fertilizer terminal along the BNSF Railway tracks running parallel to U.S. Highway 12. The engine of the train struck the rear of the semi-trailer and pushed the rig off the road. It caused a rupture in the newly filled tank, allowing the anhydrous ammonia gas to leak, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Westin was airlifted to the St. Cloud Hospital where he was last reported in critical but stable condition.

Sheriff Holtz said Wednesday that Westin was the only person airlifted to medical care as a result of the accident.

As emergency personnel rushed to the accident scene Tuesday, officers notified residents in the area and urged them to evacuate as a precaution.

Jennifer Fath, who lives about 1½ miles west of the accident site, is among those who are expressing gratitude today for the hard work of all those responding to the accident.

"There's some pretty big heroes out there,'' said Fath.

She was on her way home after dropping her children off at school. She went by the site shortly after the accident occurred, and saw that help was being provided. Just minutes after she arrived home, Sheriff Holtz drove into the driveway and advised her to leave.

Others in the immediate area evacuated their homes as well. All are back home and things are very much back to normal, she said.

Workers will remain at the accident site until the tanker and truck are removed.

"They're all working very, very hard,'' said Fath. "Hopefully all of them can go home soon.''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335