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Thousands flee in US toxic spill

DULUTH, Minnesota (AP) - A cloud of toxic vapour from a derailed tank car forced at least 50,000 people to flee homes and offices yesterday in Minnesota and Wisconsin, creating traffic jams and leaving central Duluth deserted.

'It's an absolute ghost town. It's eerie what's going on down there,' Mayor Gary Doty said at an emergency command post outside the city.

At least 25 people were taken to hospitals in the two states, and about 260 National Guard and army reserve troops were mobilised. Authorities lifted the evacuation order yesterday afternoon, except for an area within one mile of the spillage in Superior, Wisconsin.

Estimates of the number of people evacuated varied widely. Duluth police put the figure at 30,000 in the city of 85,000, and Douglas County, Wisconsin, authorities estimated 20,000 people in north-west Wisconsin had fled. Other estimates ran as high as 80,000 in the two states.

Crews worked to contain the leak, which happened after 14 cars of a Burlington northern freight train derailed early yesterday on a bridge over the Nemadji River in Superior. A tank car containing a benzene-based chemical tumbled into the river and leaked. Roads into the two cities were closed, and outbound lanes were jammed.