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New Mexico truck explosion forces evacuation of Navajo community

By Joseph Kolb

ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (Reuters) - A semi-tractor trailer carrying hazardous materials crashed and exploded on a New Mexico highway on Thursday, officials said, forcing authorities to evacuate temporarily hundreds of people from a nearby Navajo Nation reservation community.

Navajo Nation spokesman Rick Abasta said about 300 residents were told to leave their homes in Naschitti, 180 miles northwest of Albuquerque, following the accident. He said the trailer is thought to have been carrying propane and adhesive products.

Emergency response officials said the fire has been extinguished and the cause of the crash is under investigation, while U.S. Highway 491 is likely to be closed for the rest of the day. No injuries were reported.

"Please avoid the accident area and ... follow instructions provided by first responders," Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley in a statement.

Local authorities urged residents not to use air conditioners, ventilation fans or other devices that could draw the fumes into enclosed spaces, and warned of the possibility of eye, skin, and throat irritation, among other risks.

"The more distance between you and the source of the smoke, the better," said Rose Whitehair, director of the Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management.

Naschitti was also evacuated in June when the so-called Assayii Lake Fire drew near.

(Reporting by Joseph Kolb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham)

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