Authorities are evacuating the entire town of Tiskilwa following a major train derailment overnight that left multiple tanker cars exploding, according to fire officials and area residents.
Tiskilwa is a town of about 800 people located about 8 miles south of Princeton and 115 miles west of Chicago.
"It's a mess," said Mike McComber, owner of the Indian Valley Inn, a restaurant-bar where many town residents were taking refuge. "A quarter to a half mile of cars derailed. Many of them are on fire.
"Everytime one of them explodes, it sounds like a bomb is going off. Three have gone off so far."
At least six cars on the 112-car train were burning, and officials were worried about expanding liquid vapor explosions, said Capt. Steve Haywood of the Ottawa Fire Department. The fire still had not been brought under control by 5:15 a.m. and it probably would be permitted to burn out on its own he said. It was unclear how many cars derailed.
The derailment occurred about 2 a.m. in the east edge of town, where there is a subdivision, McComber said.
The cars were carrying ethanol, or denatured alcohol, he said, and possibly other materials and chemicals. Ethanol is used in producing gasoline and for other industrial purposes.
The shipper was Decatur-based ADM Corn Processing, he said. David Weintraub, a spokesman for ADM, said he couldn’t confirm the cars contained ADM products and referred questions to the train operator. He said ADM would cooperate as appropriate with investigators and the rail company.
There were no immediate reports of injuries. Evacuees were being taken to Princeton High School, according to the Bureau County Sheriff's Office.
Kirk Haring, superintendent for Princeton High School District 500, said the Bureau County Red Cross is using the school as a shelter area. Students had the day off anyway for a teacher institute day, he said.
Mike Hellberg, the county Red Cross’ disaster chairman, said evacuees have started trickling into the school while he and others try to provide cots and meals.The train is operated by Iowa Interstate Railroad, Ltd., Jeff Johnson, the company's director of safety and security said. He was en route to the scene at 4:15 a.m.
Responding hazmat crews could see the fire from Interstate 80, about 9 miles away. Other area residents reported the glow could be seen from 12 miles.
HazMat teams from Ottawa, Utica, Marseilles, Peru, Mendota, Oglesby and Naplate were dispatched to the fire, Haywood said.