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Oregon train derails, spills volatile type of oil

A train towing cars of crude oil has derailed in the US state of Oregon's scenic Columbia River Gorge. At least one car caught fire, spewing black smoke into the sky and forcing the evacuation of school children.

A freight train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire Friday afternoon in the US state Oregon, forcing the closure of a major highway and the evacuation of a school.

Local media showed cars perpendicular to the tracks and black smoke billowing into the sky from at least one tanker car that had caught fire.

The train was hauling Bakken crude oil - known for its volatility - from Eastport, Idaho, and was headed for Tacoma, Washington.

"I looked outside and there was black and white smoke blowing across the sky, and I could hear the flames," recounted local resident Dan Hoffman, 32, who said he was ordered to evacuate his home in the town of Mosier, Oregon, just east of the derailment.

Union Pacific Corp, which owns the line, said 11 rail cars from a 96-car train derailed alongside the river. It said oil was released from at least one rail car, which was burning.

No injuries have been reported.

But about 200 students were evacuated from an elementary and middle school near the scene.

State and federal investigators and spill response teams have been dispatched to the site, as black smoke billows above the environmentally sensitive river gorge.

The transportation of crude oil by rail tanker is controversial in North America, especially in the wake of a

2013 disaster in Canada that left nearly 50 dead in 2013

.

Environmentalists said Friday's derailment is a reminder of the hazards of rail tankers transporting flammable liquids.

"Moving oil by rail constantly puts our communities and environment at risk," said Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in Eugene, Oregon.

Maia Bellon, director of Washington state's Department of Ecology, said so far no oil had been spotted in the Columbia River.

jar/jr (AP, Reuters)

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