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Evacuation Lifted, Ellendale Residents Return Following Train Derailment

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Seven-hundred residents of Ellendale are back in their homes Friday evening after a train derailment released a cloud of liquefied petroleum gas into the dark morning sky.

The 146-car Union Pacific freight train had just passed through downtown Ellendale Friday at about 5:40 a.m., headed to North Platte, Nebraska.

That is when an unknown malfunction caused about a dozen of the cars to jump the tracks in a farm field south of town.

"Two of the cars … were filled with LP," said Steele County Sheriff Lon Thiele.

Ellendale Train Derailment
(credit: CBS)

The second car, which was carrying butane, did not rupture. But the tanker filled with liquefied petroleum had a tear in the steel tank, sending out a plume of gas into the sky. LP is highly flammable and explosive.

First responders went door to door around town, ordering all residents to evacuate from the two-mile area surrounding the leaking tanker.

Rosa Deleon lives just off the tracks and heard the screeching of brakes and colliding of the cars.

"At this time we had already been outside and could see that the train had derailed, you know, because we could see it from where I live, and we could see a cloud of white smoke."

Due to the threat of that gas cloud, school was cancelled for the day. Many of the students and other evacuees from the town spent all morning at a Methodist church just north of town.

The all-clear was sounded just before 1 p.m. The leak had stopped and residents were finally allowed back home.

"I'm just so glad to get home," resident Amanda Beech said. "It was spooky because … when there is an emergency that's beyond 'just wait a minute,' it requires you to do something that you don't know what you are going to do."

She decided to leave town, go out for breakfast and do a little shopping. Noah Slatten heard the good news from the sheriff and was quick to return home.

"He was on camera with the press conference saying that everyone was cleared to go home and all businesses could ... open up," Slatten said. "Now I get to go to work [smiles]."

Normalcy may have returned to a quiet little town, but cleanup for rail workers will mean a long weekend on the job.

The cause of the derailment is under investigation.

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