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Highway 12 reopens west of Murdock, Minn.

MURDOCK -- U.S. Highway 12 west of Murdock reopened for traffic at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, two to three days before officials thought it could be done.

The highway was opened shortly after workers removed the ruptured anhydrous ammonia tank and semi-truck that had been struck around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in an accident with a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train.

Minor cleanup work continued at the site even after the highway was reopened. Bill McGeary, Swift County emergency management director, said some of the ammonia that had been mixed with water was being cleaned up from the ground there. It poses no risk.

Authorities had thought the cleanup and detour would continue into the weekend. McGeary said a change in tactics in how the damaged tank was being emptied of its anhydrous ammonia provided a big break for all of those involved. The tank was emptied by 11 p.m. Wednesday, and workers were able to focus their efforts on removing the damaged tank and semi-truck.

The accident occurred shortly after Eric Westin of Pine City left the Koch Nitrogen Fertilizer terminal at the site. He was northbound on a township road intersecting with U.S. Highway 12 when the rear of the semi-truck trailer with the full anhydrous ammonia tank was struck by an eastbound BNSF train. Three locomotives and 102 tanker cars carrying oil from a location west of Minot, N.D., were on their way to Missouri.

Westin was airlifted to the St. Cloud Hospital, where he was reported as being in serious condition on Thursday. The three crew members on the train were transported to an area hospital for observation and released.

Tom Cherveny

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

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