NORTHWOOD | The cause of an explosion Thursday morning at a Northwood AG Products fertilizer storage facility containing sulfuric acid is undetermined, according to Worth County Emergency Management Director Ray Huftalin.
The 7:30 a.m. explosion and subsequent fire at the storage facility at the city's airport forced the evacuation of Northwood's approximately 2,000 residents for most of the day.
Residents were given the all-clear about 4 p.m. to return to their homes if they felt safe doing so considering the weather.
U.S. Highway 65, which had been closed to keep people from entering the community, was re-opened at approximately 3:15 p.m. Thursday.
Considering the number of people involved, the evacuation went well, Huftalin said.
Four Northwood residents were treated at Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa Thursday morning following the fire after traveling to the hospital by private vehicles.
The hospital was put on alert for the possibility of more people needing treatment, but no more had been seen as of Thursday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said.
General symptoms of exposure to sulfuric acid are vomiting, nausea and respiratory problems. The hospital spokeswoman said anyone experiencing symptoms should go to the emergency room.
Kensett Mayor Tom Dakin breathed a sign of relief following Thursday's emergency. Many of the people from Northwood had been sent to shelters in Kensett, about 6 miles south of Northwood.
"The CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) crews and the emergency management groups are just picking up the last of their stuff and pulling out of town -- if they can get out of town," Dakin said.
"We've been trying to get all the Northwood people out of here. We've been setting car parades to follow an Iowa DOT plow back up to Northwood."
Dakin said he was proud of how everyone stepped forward to help.
"We did excellent. We did absolutely excellent. I don't think it could have gone any smoother."
The mayor said emergency drills helped get them ready for the real thing.
"We train for these types of events and of course they are spontaneous so you adhere to the plan as best you can and everything went pretty smooth today. It's not often that you evacuate a town."
Steve O'Neil, emergency management director for Cerro Gordo and Franklin counties, assisted with the shelters for Northwood evacuees.
"Like any emergency, it starts off chaotic. And all we try to do is start taking control of the chaos and managing it. We had a lot of excellent cooperation from different agencies," O'Neil said. He commended the volunteers, the people of Kensett and the Northwood residents.
3:30 p.m. Thursday Northwood residents take refuge in Kensett
KENSETT | About 15 Northwood residents and their dogs are hunkered down at Kensett City Hall waiting for the all clear to return to their homes.
The entire city of Northwood was evacuated Thursday morning after a fire broke out at a fertilizer storage facility on the grounds of the Northwood airport. Residents were told to leave due to concerns about sulfuric acid at the storage facility.
Susan Mega was planning on traveling to Mason City for a doctor's appointment Thursday when she received a text message from the city telling residents to get out of town for their own safety.
"I looked out east and there was black smoke coming up from where the problem is," Mega said.
She gathered her miniature schnauzer Deacon 2 and headed into Kensett.
"We had goulash already. There are sandwiches, coffee, pop. We're waiting to go home."
Some of the evacuees are playing cards. There are board games sitting on a table.
Others are sitting and talking, just waiting to head home.
The American Red Cross delivered about a dozen cots just in case the residnets end up spending the night here.
Mega said Deacon was rolling with the siutation.
"Deacon wasn't too sure when we left the house," she said.
Terri Sculley, a paraprofessional at Northwood-Kensett High School, was enjoying a snow day Thursday when she received a call to evacuate due to a chemical fire at the Northwood airport.
"Is this joke?" Sculley said was her first thought. "Is this true?"
She checked with her husband Tom, a bus driver for the school district, woke up her granddaughter Ashley Thomas, 17, and headed to Kensett.
She brought along her white Maltese dog Marco.
Tom is driving a bus shuttling evacuees.
Sculley said they live near the airport but couldn't see anything this morning.
"Someone posted a picture on Facebook."
She said the whole situation has been "pretty scary."
"It never occurred to me that there might be toxic stuff at that business," she said. "I have to say crisis management has just been wonderful. They have provided for all of us."
An emergency management official is at City Hall now asking residents to sign in and indicate any medical needs they may have such as oxygen or medications.
Noon:Four seek treatment after Northwood fire; hospital on alert for more
NORTHWOOD | Four Northwood residents were being treated at Mercy Medical Center - North Iowa Thursday morning after a fire at a fertilizer storage facility that contains sulfuric acid.
The hospital was put on alert for the possibility of more people needing treatment.
The residents getting hospital treatment came in on their own, a hospital spokeswoman said.
General symptoms of exposure to sulfuric acid are vomiting, nausea and respiratory problem. The spokeswoman said anyone experiencing symptoms should go to the main entrance of the emergency room. A medical team would be there to assist them.
The entire community of nearly 2,000 people was evacuated as firefighters battled a chemical fire at a fertilizer storage facility on the grounds of the Northwood airport.
Residents were being asked to go "anywhere out of Northwood," a Worth County sheriff's deputy said. Community centers in Kensett and Carpenter were preparing to accommodate residents as were many churches in outlying communities.
Dennis Lau of Northwood, who lives in the south end of the city, said, "The cops came to my house at 9:30 and told me I had to leave. We didn't know what was going on. They just told us to get out of town as fast as we could. I got my dogs and left."
According to a reporter at the Kensett community center, school buses are being used to evacuate Northwood residents to emergency centers elsewhere in the county.
People with pets were being directed to the Kensett City Hall. Officials were working on providing for nursing home residents to make sure they had their medications. Red Cross personnel were on hand.
Residents who had no transportation were being transported out of town from the Worth County Sheriff's office, 1000 Central Ave. Anyone needing transportation to the sheriff's office was asked to call that office at 641-324-2481.
The National Weather Service issued a civil emergency message regarding the evacuation, calling it "a dangerous situation."
Several residents reported hearing explosions when the fire broke out. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Highway 105, a main artery in Northwood, was blocked off in the area near the fire.
A resident of Northwood at the Kensett center said he lives in the eastern part of town and could smell the acid. He said barricades were being placed in town so people would not travel inside the city.
The Iowa State Patrol, Northwood police, and the Worth County Sheriff's Department were assisting at the scene.