A semi-truck crash that caused an ammonia leak in central Illinois Friday night left five people dead, including two children, officials said.
Around 500 residents within a one-mile radius of the crash in the Teutopolis area were forced to evacuate because of the toxic leak, after the truck spilled more than half of the 7,500 gallons of the caustic anhydrous ammonia it was carrying, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said.
Anhydrous ammonia is used by farmers to add nitrogen fertilizer to the soil and as a refrigerant in the cooling systems of large buildings.
One adult and the two children killed were in the same family, and the other two adults were out of state motorists, the Effingham County Coroner said. Their identities and causes of death have not been revealed.
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Five other people were taken to the hospital in unknown conditions.
“We have a lot of brave firemen, EMT, hazmat specialists, police officers that are working on this scene as we speak,” Effingham County Sheriff Paul Kuhns said at press briefing Saturday morning after crews worked through the night to clean up the scene, working against shifting winds.
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The accident caused “a large plume, cloud of anhydrous ammonia on the roadway that caused terribly dangerous air conditions in the northeast area of Teutopolis,” Kuhns said. “Because of these conditions, the emergency responders had to wait. They had to mitigate the conditions before they could really get to work on it, and it was a fairly large area.”
Tim McMahon, chief of the Teutopolis Fire Protection District said the winds changed three of four times overnight.
“That’s another reason we got crews out in different places, reporting back on which way the wind’s going,” he said.
Phillip Hartke told the Associated Press he was driving home to Teutopolis when he smelled ammonia on US-40 and “firefighters advised us right there: ‘Evacuate to the west.’”
Teutopolis is a “tight-knit community,” he said. “Many people have sons and daughters, aunts and uncles within five or six miles of town.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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