20,000 pounds of spilled fertilizer prompts business evacuations, shuts I-35 in NW Missouri

Friday, September 24, 2010

20,000 pounds of fertilizer spill near I-35 in Mo.

CAMERON, Mo. — A portion of a northwest Missouri highway has reopened after being closed several hours because of a fertilizer spill.

Interstate 35 was shut down near Cameron on Friday after about 20,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate spilled from a tanker truck in a parking lot just off the interstate. The area is at the intersection of I-35 and U.S. 36.

Cameron Police Sgt. Marty Gray says the highway was reopened around 5:30 p.m.

Police were concerned the volatile fertilizer might ignite, so they cleared out the area, including businesses, within half a mile of the spill.

The highway closure forced traffic to wind through the small northwest Missouri community of Cameron, about an hour north of Kansas City. Some minor accidents were reported.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

CAMERON, Mo. (AP) — A tanker truck spilled about 20,000 pounds of fertilizer near Interstate 35 in northwest Missouri on Friday, forcing police to shut down part of the highway and evacuate nearby homes and businesses.

Traffic was backed up in both directions for miles by midday near the busy intersection of I-35 and U.S. 36 in Cameron.

Police said the tanker carrying 40,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate pulled into a parking lot across the road from a truck stop around 9:45 a.m. and got stuck in mud. Cameron Police Sgt. Marty Gray said the tanker got hooked on something as the driver tried to move the truck, causing about 20,000 pounds of fertilizer to spill onto the ground.

In addition to its use as a fertilizer, the Environmental Protection Agency said ammonium nitrate also is used with additives as a blasting agent and can explode when combined with the right amount of heat.

Gray said the intersection was closed as a precaution, noting that ammonium nitrate is the same compound Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

“We’re looking at a truck that can carry 40,000 pounds, and 20,000-plus is on the ground,” Gray said. “Four thousand took out Oklahoma City.”

Gray said cleanup could take until well into Friday evening, complicating weekend travel for motorists roughly an hour north of Kansas City.

“Things are pretty much at a standstill,” Gray told The Associated Press at 2 p.m. “It will be six to eight hours before this is alleviated. We had some cleanup crews about 40 miles away and more coming behind, including a crew from Illinois.”

He said there had been some minor accidents as travelers squeeze their way along U.S. 69 through the town of roughly 8,000 residents, but nothing serious.

Amanda Hahn, manager of a nearby restaurant that was not evacuated, said the spill was about a mile away. She said roads in front of her restaurant were closed but they were not evacuated, and her restaurant, Ma & Pa’s Kettle, was staying open until they were told otherwise.

“We’re just kind of waiting to see what happens,” she said. “Basically they closed down 35 because it’s highly explosive. If it would ignite, it would be like a bomb.”

Cody Farr, assistant manager of a KFC/Taco Bell located near the law enforcement command center set up to handle the spill about a mile away, said the restaurant didn’t open Friday. Roads around the restaurant all were closed, and authorities told Farr they would likely remain closed until later Friday evening.

“Everything is just dead,” he said.

Although the restaurant it closed, he said, workers have been staying busy taking care of some of the emergency crews.

“We’ve been feeding them and giving them coffee,” he said.

Gray said this is the third such spill in this area in the past 18 months.

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