When a train derails at your front yard

With the Clair derailment now off most people’s minds and away from the national media spotlight, those who live in the immediate area of the accident are left with unanswered questions.

Kaweski r
Nick Kaweski and his wife Audrey (not shown) live directly across the highway near the epicentre of the Oct. 7 train derailment and subsequent explosion of a rail car containing hazardous goods.

“I heard one big bang,” said Nick when the News visited the Kaweskis eight days after the accident. “I rushed outside. I saw one part of the train pull away; then I went inside to get my camera.”
When asked, Audrey told the News that she did feel threatened by the events that were taking place so close to their yard.

“It was way after 11 a.m. when we were told to leave the property ‘for your own good.’ You don’t know what’s going to happen, so I walked around the yard. You don’t know what to take (with you). When we left, we just drove straight out front to the highway to Quill Lake,” Nick said.

When they came back later Tuesday night to see if they could go home, it was difficult to get answers about what was happening, said Nick. “At first there was some confusion, but I told them I needed to check the animals. So I was escorted back by one of the Wadena firefighters.”
Later, when they were escorted back from their farm via the detour, they headed to Wadena.
“We didn’t actually know when the evacuation order was lifted,” he said.

As to the possible cause of the derailment, Nick knows that the particular crossing where the derailment happened has been “welded three times.” He also believes that because the water table is so high this year due to unprecedented high levels of the Quill Lakes on the south side of the tracks, the bed upon which the tracks are built is quite a bit softer.

“You can see the tracks move up and down because of the water table, and there’s an artesian well right there,” stated Nick, indicating the south side of the tracks.

The Kaweskis are suffering some sleepless nights due to the noise from the cleanup operations.
“I have headaches from the banging; I never get headaches,” said Nick. “It’s the banging and the air when they were loading the acid.”
Both Nick and Audrey are experiencing scratchy throats and Nick went to the doctor with complaints of chest congestion.
“I just don’t feel quite right,” said Audrey. “I just used the car today and I can smell the smoke in the car. And you wonder if it’s safe to walk around outside.
“My eyes still burn,” she added. “I can’t go out to the yard; I have to come back in the house right away.”

“On Wednesday when I went across the highway to find out what was happening, they said ‘You’re supposed to be out of here,’ ” said Nick. “This is my land. I want to know what’s happening,” Nick told the workers. “You should be coming to tell me what’s happening.” During one of his many trips across the highway, someone asked if he was a member of the press, then told him he couldn’t take pictures.

When the Minister of the Environment visited the site, “He did not take the time to walk across the highway to talk to us. It’s the people who are supposed to know what’s happening that aren’t telling you anything,” said Nick, who was getting more information from the private contractors on the site than he was from anybody else.

When asked whether their water had been tested, Nick said, “We’ve been told it’s OK but I have yet to see the results of any testing, They took samples Wednesday and we still have not heard. They said they’d let us know right away. They said they’d come back Monday (Thanksgiving) and today (Tuesday) but we haven’t seem them yet. When they were taking readings out by the garage, they said it measured high. Well, what constitutes ‘high?’ ” he wondered.
“We’ll get back to you,” is what Nick says they were told.
“It’s too late to get back to me, a week later.”

Worried about possible contamination of their yard and garden, the Kaweskis called in to a radio garden show. They were advised not to harvest what is in the garden now and not to plant anything there for a year.
As for the long term, the Kaweskis are asking the same questions as everyone else.

“If it’s OK, then show me. What happens if the cats and dogs later get sick? Who’s going to pay the vet bills?” asks Nick. “My dog’s eyes were red the other day; she’s never had red eyes. And what about the hay; what are we going to have to do, burn it?
“If they were doing their jobs,” said Nick, “they’d just come and talk to the people and let them know what’s happening.”

By Alison Squires

Wadena News

306.338.2133.

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