A railcar carrying toxic chemicals exploded at a western Nebraska railyard Thursday and prompted evacuations in the area.
The explosion occurred inside “an intermodal container on a railcar at Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard in North Platte,” AP reports.
According to multiple outlets, Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard is the world’s largest railroad yard.
The explosion occurred around noon and footage showed toxic white smoke encompassing the air.
Authorities reportedly ordered a four-mile evacuation zone following the explosion.
“Numerous hazmat teams are on-site, and emergency crews along with Union Pacific Railroad are still trying to understand what triggered the explosions, releasing HUGE amounts of highly toxic perchloric acid into the atmosphere,” journalist Nick Sortor wrote.
🚨 #BREAKING: Railcars Carrying Toxic Chemicals have Caught Fire and EXPLODED Releasing Hazardous Smoke into the Air Near Northplatte, Nebraska
** Authorities have ordered a FOUR MILE evacuation zone around the explosion site.
Numerous hazmat teams are on-site, and emergency… pic.twitter.com/vjJODoKUnM
— Nick Sortor (@nicksortor) September 14, 2023
“Officials have sent out a emergency warning and are currently evacuating people within a four-mile radius of the explosion. The Union Pacific Railroad says that there was no derailment, and the affected railcar had been stationary in the yard for a couple of hours prior to the incident. The cause of the explosion is currently under investigation,” Raws Alerts noted.
🚨#BREAKING: A Four Mile Evacuation has been Ordered after a Railcar carrying toxic chemicals explodes Unleashing Hazardous Toxic Smoke
Currently Numerous Authorities and hazmat crews are one the scene of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in North… pic.twitter.com/dHbcGkY6n6
— R A W S A L E R T S (@rawsalerts) September 14, 2023
Daily Mail reports:
North Platte Volunteer Fire Department announced that they would order those living in the area to evacuate due to the toxic smoke from the railroad.
In a post to social media, they said: ‘Emergency evacuation for the area between splinter and front North of railroad track due fire at the railroad involving heavy toxic smoke.
‘Explosion at Union Pacific Railroad Bailey Yards at approximately 12:10 pm.’ The fire was extinguished later on Thursday evening, North Platte VFD later confirmed.
In a later update, they announced they would be asking more homes to prepare to evacuate.
They said: ‘Houses between Homestead and Front, be prepared to evacuate in the next one to two hours due to wind and weather changing.’
Pictures shared online by the crew show a thick plume of white smoke moving across farmland.
A volunteer working inside an observation tower told a local newspaper he saw a “big ball of flame” and then a constant fire for approximately 10 minutes.
One of the volunteers who was working inside the Golden Spike Tower Thursday told the North Platte Telegraph newspaper that he saw a “big ball of flame” billow up while he was talking to someone.
“And then it was just fire, fire, fire, constant for 10, 12 minutes maybe. And then the fire went down and smoke kind of increased, and then it was just sparks coming out,” Gregg Robertson told the newspaper.
Two plumes of smoke rose from the blast site, Robertson said. “The east plume was like black smoke. The west plume was orange smoke, something like I’ve not seen from a fire,” he said.
Railroad officials said that because the explosion happened near the western end of the railyard and the prevailing winds were carrying the toxic smoke outside the railroad, Union Pacific was able to continue operating part of the facility and keep trains moving. Once the fire was extinguished Thursday evening, Union Pacific was able to resume use of the entire railyard, spokeswoman Kristen South said.
According to local news outlets, authorities lifted the evacuation order around 5:20 p.m. and reopened Highway 30 between Hershey and North Platte.
“Perchloric acid is used to separate potassium from sodium, and in many laboratory tests and industrial processes. Uses for the salts of perchloric acid include explosives and plating metals. Perchloric acid may explode, and it decomposes on heating producing toxic and corrosive fumes. The substance is a strong oxidant and reacts violently with combustible and reducing materials, organic materials and strong bases, causing a fire and explosion hazard. It attacks many metals forming flammable/explosive gas,” according to Science Direct.
The North Platte Telegraph spoke with two eyewitnesses who saw the explosion.