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Kandiyohi County grateful to first responders and community for their help following Raymond train derailment

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Eric Tollefson and Emergency Management Director Stephanie Felt spoke in front of the Kandiyohi County Board on Tuesday about the action that took place following the Raymond train derailment.

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Pieces of damaged train cars sit along the railroad tracks outside Raymond as a BNSF Railway train passes on cleared tracks on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. As the cleanup of the derailment continued, the Kandiyohi County Board at its meeting heard from Sheriff Eric Tollefson and and Emergency Management Director Stephanie Felt about the county and community response to the incident.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR โ€” After the initial commotion and drama from the Raymond train derailment had started to subside, Kandiyohi County Emergency Management Director Stephanie Felt took some time to talk with a few residents who had been evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night March 30.

Felt reported one woman said the evacuation process seemed planned beforehand it went so smoothly.

At Tuesday's Kandiyohi County Board meeting, Felt said it felt like that because it was.

"We have been training with both the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and the American Red Cross for this type of situation," Felt said.

Felt and Kandiyohi County Sheriff Eric Tollefson discussed the derailment and the county's response to it at the Tuesday meeting.

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"With something like this, everybody goes," Tollefson said.

One of the first priorities on the scene was to set up the mobile command unit, to act as a base for the unified command made up of local agencies and BNSF Railway.

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A worker pumps material from a derailed BNSF car in Raymond on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, as cleanup efforts to remove the 22 derailed cars continues.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

At the same time, Felt and Tollefson put the evacuation plan for residents who needed to leave their home into action. Unity Christian Reformed Church in Prinsburg became the shelter for around 125 people, and nine dogs, during the day. Even more residents went to other places outside of the evacuation zone.

To notify residents about the derailment and the need to evacuate, the county sent out a Wireless Emergency Alert to all cellphones within the evacuation perimeter. It works just like Amber Alerts. As long as a person has those notifications turned on, they would have received it March 30.

"If you have it next to you, the way those things go off, it should wake you up," Tollefson said.

Following the cellphone alert, members of local fire departments and the Kandiyohi County Rescue Squad went door to door, making sure everyone knew about the evacuation order. In some cases, when no one answered the door, if the firefighter knew who was living there, they walked right into the home to wake people up. Being awakened in the middle of the night by a blaring cellphone alert and knocks at the door can be a scary thing, but the community of Raymond reacted calmly.

"We were not met with any resistance," Tollefson said. "I was surprised how smoothly it went."

Tollefson said the county was actually very lucky in regard to the derailment; it could have been much worse if only one or two things had happened differently.

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"Everything was in our favor from the wind direction, to the forecasted wind direction to the substance that was on fire and the actual location of the derailment," Tollefson said. "Another 300 yards to the east it would have been completely different story."

The County Board thanked everyone from the first responders to the community for all their help during the derailment.

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A semi carrying a derailed train car travels down Minnesota Highway 23 outside Raymond on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

"All that training that you do for all those years, hope you never have to use like your insurance policy on your house, has paid off," said Commissioner Roger Imdieke. "Kudos to all of you for that job that was done."

Felt and Tollefson also shared their gratitude to the entire community for helping in the hours and days following the derailment.

"It is indicative of the kind of people we have in our community, they don't even have to be asked," Tollefson said. "They literally appeared out of nowhere and went to work, made our job a lot easier. It was pretty fantastic actually."

All the food didn't hurt either. Within a few hours of the derailment, someone was making pancakes for responders and that was just the beginning.

"We learned anybody with a crockpot shows up to help and they are very good cooks," Felt said. "It was appreciated."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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