Five people killed in crash that releases leak of anhydrous ammonia

Illinois authorities held a news conference Saturday regarding the accident and ammonia spill (Facebook/Illinois State Police)
Illinois authorities held a news conference Saturday regarding the accident and ammonia spill (Facebook/Illinois State Police)

Five people have died in rural Illinois after a multi-vehicle accident sparked a spillage of anhydrous ammonia when the truck carrying the toxic substance overturned on Friday, officials said.

The crash occurred on Route 40 on Friday night in Effingham County, prompting the evacuation of many in the 1,600-population town of Teutopolis, located about 110 miles northeast of St. Louis, authorities said.

County Coroner Kim Rhodes told the Effingham Daily News on Saturday that five people were fatally overcome by anhydrous ammonia, including two children under 12 and an adult from the same Teutopolis residence. A semi truck driver from Ohio and a motorist from Missouri were also killed, while five others were airlifted to hospitals, including the driver of the truck carrying the toxic material, Ms Rhodes told the outlet.

Jennifer Gabris, a spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the agency was investigating the incident, AP reported. Emergency responders remained on site on Saturday, working to contain the cloud of anhydrous ammonia, which is used by farmers to add nitrogen fertilizer to the soil, and as a refrigerant in the cooling systems of large buildings.

“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 a Saturday news conference.

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,” Mr 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.”

Authorities said that crews working overnight struggled against shifting wind.

“The wind changed three or four different times on us,” said Tim McMahon, chief of the Teutopolis Fire Protection District. “That’s another reason we got crews out in different places, reporting back on which way the wind’s going.”

No emergency responders were injured during the massive initial response to the leak, which included about 100 personnel from 15 agencies, Mr McMahon said.

He said the tanker began leaking after rolling over in a ditch. Authorities were still preventing cars from driving in that area on Saturday, with many residents expected to be displaced until at least Sunday as efforts continued to contain the poisonous gas.