Most Raymond, Minnesota, residents never heard train derailment, but then came the knocking

Many Raymond residents were not awakened by the sound, but it wasn't long before neighbors, volunteers and law enforcement officers were knocking on doors to start the evacuation process.

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Community members listen to updated information during a news conference at Unity Christian Reformed Church in Prinsburg following a BNSF train derailment in Raymond on Thursday, March 30, 2023.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

PRINSBURG — Barb Fank was among the many residents in Raymond who slept right through the derailment of 22 BNSF Railway cars just after 1 a.m. Thursday. Fank said she never heard it.

But Fank said her slumber was abruptly interrupted shortly after by knocks on her door, phone calls and even an Amber Alert-like blast on her phone.

She was among the roughly 800 residents evacuated from the community Thursday morning. She had time to dress and make her way to the Central Minnesota Christian School in Prinsburg, which was turned into a designated shelter for evacuees.

Her recollection of how the town’s nighttime evacuation went? “You’d have thought it was planned ahead,” Fank said. She was surprised by how quickly emergency responders went to work in town, and how her neighbors reacted with calm and not panic.

Sharon and Darwin Heida, both 81, live just one block from the derailment site. It was 2:30 a.m. when they were awakened by knocks on the door and phone calls. They had slept through the derailment, but Sharon said they could see the glow from the fires that had broken out as rail cars leaked ethanol.


“We just did what we were told,” she said.

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Raymond residents displaced by the train derailment sit in the commons area of Unity Christian Reformed Church in Prinsburg, Minnesota, on Thursday, March 30, 2023.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Nidya Ramierz, 10, was "just sleeping peacefully" when she heard the knocking at her door.

"I kind of hear the conversation, then my mom comes in my room. She tells me what’s happening, and I thought this is probably just a joke," she said. ''Then she said there was a policeman and firefighters and ambulances, and I was like, 'This is definitely real.' "

Ramierz's mom, Maria Ribera, said she saw the lights, first responders and an ambulance, and thought someone may have gotten hurt and called 911 or maybe they were looking for someone.

"They knocked on my door and said that we had to evacuate because the train derailed and it was in flames,” she said.

Her family saw the derailed train and the fire, which made them concerned about the train possibly exploding and the safety of their home.

Zachary Simons said he was awakened by repeated knocks on the door. His neighbor called no fewer than three times to make sure his household was awake and ready to evacuate.

Larry Macht, an accountant in town, had only been asleep for a couple hours when his daughter called shortly after 1 a.m. to alert him to the emergency that was unfolding.


Tired from a long day of preparing taxes, Macht said he and his wife, Diane, dressed and drove over to the Central Minnesota Christian School in Prinsburg. There they found a very welcoming community ready to help, he said.

A man checks a list as two women and two dogs board a school bus.
A volunteer in Prinsburg checks a list of people, from left, as Pam Haugen and Vanessa Garvick board a bus back to Raymond after the all-clear was given following the evacuation of residents due to a train derailment at about 1 a.m. Thursday.
Jennifer Kotila / West Central Tribune

Pam Haugen, who lives in an apartment building about four to five blocks from the railroad tracks, did not hear the derailment or first responders knocking at her door, nor did she hear her neighbor, Vanessa Garvick, calling her phone to tell her what was happening.

"Then I finally woke up and I talked to her and asked what is going on? I was like in a fog, you know, I was sleeping so hard," Haugen said. "Are we going to be able to come home? Is it going to explode our building and we’re going to lose everything? That’s what I was afraid of," she added.

Haugen and Garvick were transported to Prinsburg in an ambulance due to not having their own transportation. Although Garvick left her dogs behind, a volunteer brought them to her later in the day.

“This is small towns, this is how it happens,” said Pastor Steve Zwart of Unity Christian Reformed Church in Prinsburg. Evacuees who had initially gathered at the school moved over to the church as students began arriving at the school.

At the church, people from the community began delivering treats and all sorts of goods for the evacuees. In just a couple hours, the church was inundated with food and other goods, the pastor said. One farmer arrived with eight dozen eggs. Volunteers fired up the stoves and began serving breakfast to the evacuees.

“Prinsburg has been so welcoming and taking care of us,” Macht said.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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