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NEWS 5.17.21: Train Detrainment, Local C-19 Cases Fall, Tibbetts Trial, and More

Mason Dockter/Sioux City Journal via AP

An evacuation order remains in place for part of a northwest Iowa town as firefighters work to extinguish a burning train after a weekend derailment. About 47 cars derailed Sunday afternoon near Sibley, including several cars that were carrying hazardous materials. The resulting fire created a thick plume of black smoke but no injuries were reported. Sibley is a town of about 3,000 people roughly 200 miles northwest of Des Moines, and the evacuation order was in effect Monday. The west end of the town had been evacuated. Union Pacific says the cause of the derailment remains under investigation, but witnesses reported that a bridge had collapsed underneath the train.

Several major unions say the significant staff cuts railroads have made in recent years could jeopardize safety, but the major railroads say the new operating model they have adopted is simply helping them become more efficient and hasn’t made the railroads riskier. The unions say the freight railroads, which include CSX, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern, have cut their workforces more than 22%, so now safety inspectors and maintenance technicians are hard pressed to complete their duties in the time allotted. Yet the railroads say safety has been improving overall, and regulators say the data doesn't show a problem with the industry's new operating model.

Credit Siouxland District Health

There were seven new cases of COVID-19 added to the count in Woodbury County on Monday. Dakota County Health officials added seven cases for the whole week and a 7-day test positivity rate of almost 2.5%. The 14-day test positivity rate has fallen to 2.8% in Woodbury County with five people being treated with the virus in Sioux City. Siouxland District Health is currently taking vaccination appointments for people 12 years and older.

Credit Dakota County Health Department

The Iowa Department of Public Health showed 86 new cases of the novel coronavirus statement with almost five-million total tests conducted since the start of the pandemic.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is predicting a return to normal in Nebraska’s K-12 schools by this fall after a year of coronavirus restrictions that included mask-wearing in classrooms and remote learning. Ricketts says the state appears to be in good shape with its vaccination efforts and virus-related hospitalizations, which have now fallen below 100 statewide. He made the comments as he encouraged Nebraska’s new high school graduates to get vaccinated if they haven’t already. He says he also supports younger children getting vaccinated, as long as a vaccine has been federally approved for a child’s age group and the parents’ consent.

Legal experts say that it will be difficult to ensure a fair trial for the farmhand charged with murder in the 2018 stabbing death of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. Jury selection began Monday in Davenport for the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera. Lawyers for both sides will work to whittle a pool of 175 potential jurors down to 12 and three alternates. The trial is expected to last two weeks. Rivera is charged with killing Tibbetts while she was out for a run in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, and hiding her body in a cornfield. Because he is a Mexico native who was living in the U.S. illegally, the case has inflamed passions over illegal immigration.

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