Illinois train derailment, fire force town evacuation

CHICAGO Fri Oct 7, 2011 5:59pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Some residents of a north-central Illinois community evacuated after a train carrying ethanol derailed and caught fire were still being told to stay away from their homes on Friday afternoon, authorities said.

The roughly 800-person village of Tiskilwa, more than 100 miles southwest of Chicago, was evacuated after a 131-car train derailed before dawn. Authorities were still fighting the fire by late afternoon, according to the Bureau County Emergency Services and Disaster Administration.

The firefighting operation was expected to continue into the late night and earning morning hours, the Bureau said in a statement.

A satellite map of Tiskilwa indicated that most of the town had been cleared for residents to return. But residents on east Main Street were still being asked to stay away from their homes, although the Bureau did not say how many people were affected.

Of the 26 cars on the train that derailed, nine contained ethanol, according to Mick Burkart, chief operating officer of the Iowa Interstate Railroad. Seven of those nine cars caught fire, Burkart said.

He said it would be some time before the cause of the derailment can be determined. The cars that did not derail were pulled away from the affected cars.

"We pulled the rear of the train back away from it, so there would not be further damage," Burkart said. The train had originated in Rock Island, Illinois and was heading to Chicago, where it was going to be taken east by another railroad.

Ethanol is the largest volume hazardous material transported by rail, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

There was an explosion when the derailment happened, said Deputy Cindy Cromwell, a dispatcher in the sheriff's office.

Les Grant, spokesman for Bureau County Emergency Services, said there were no injuries or structural damage. Some residents evacuated to Princeton High School, seven miles north of the small town. The evacuation was voluntary.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper in Boston; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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