SERGEANT BLUFF -- A gas leak evacuated some Sergeant Bluff homes following the Monday afternoon derailment of 16 railroad cars that severed the city in two for more than two hours.
Many of the cars were carrying salt, which spilled in mountainous, snow-white piles in the ditches and along the road. Neighbors kept filing past Monday night to look at the scene, where four of the cars crunched together across the tracks.
The middle section of a Union Pacific train derailed just before 4 p.m. at the intersection of Eighth Street and South Lewis Boulevard, said Assistant Sergeant Bluff Fire Chief Anthony Gaul. The rest of the long train blocked off all other intersections in Sergeant Bluff that crossed the tracks. Combined with the closure of South Lewis Boulevard/U.S. Highway 75 south of Singing Hills Boulevard due to construction, the city was essentially split in half.
"We recommended travelers find an alternate route for a few hours," he said, whether it was taking Old Lakeport Road or looping around on Port Neal Road. "It was an inconvenience, that's for sure."
Cars were cleared from the other highway intersections, which included both First Street and Warrior Road, by 6:15 p.m., Gaul said. Travel on U.S. 75 south of First Street was still restricted Monday night.
Numerous residents called law enforcement about the mess when it first happened, Gaul said, but when firefighters and police arrived they ran into another, potentially deadly, problem -- a gas leak.
"It was coming from a pop-off residential valve," he said. "We evacuated seven houses in the immediate area temporarily until MidAmerican [Energy] can fix it."
The area was also barricaded and guarded by fire officials. Gaul said it has not been determined whether the derailment and the gas leak are connected. The residents still were not able to return to their homes by 8 p.m. Monday.
Union Pacific officials were on scene to investigate but had not figured out Monday evening why the cars went off the tracks, he said. The intersection of Eighth and South Lewis will remain blocked until at least 10 a.m. Tuesday while investigation is completed.