Urgent evacuation issued for thousands living in Ohio village after train derailment
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has issued an evacuation notice for anyone living within a mile of the derailment of a cargo train that triggered a huge fire and the spillage of hazardous chemicals.
The fireball and release of chemicals, including vinyl chloride, happened after around 50 cars of a 140-car freight train derailed from their tracks at around 9pm on Friday.
No injuries or fatalities were reported after the crash, which left a smoldering tangle of chemicals, smoke and fire. It occurred near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border by the village of East Palestine.
While over 2,000 people had been evacuated Saturday, DeWine is now calling for anyone within a mile of the accident who had previously declined to leave to do so as soon as possible as a rise in the temperature in one of the rail cars could cause an explosion driving shrapnel a mile wide.
‘Although teams are working to prevent an explosion from happening, residents living within a mile of the site are advised to immediately leave the area,’ DeWine said. While most individuals in the one-mile radius have already evacuated, local officials say that more than 500 people have declined to leave their homes.’
The fireball and release of small amounts of vinyl chloride happened after around 50-cars of a 140-car freight train derailed from their tracks at around 9pm on Friday
The local county sheriff’s office has threatened anyone with children in their homes who refused to evacuate with potential arrest.
The state’s national guard, highway patrol, emergency management and EPA are assisting with the situation.
An alert has been sent out via text and mobile to tell people to evacuate.
Federal investigators had announced earlier Sunday that a mechanical issue with a rail car axle caused the fiery derailment near the Pennsylvania state line Friday night.
Michael Graham, a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference that the three-member train crew received an alert about the mechanical defect ‘shortly before the derailment’ but said the board was still working to determine which rail car experienced the issue.
The Norfolk Southern train was shipping cargo from Madison in Illinois to Conway in Pennsylvania when it derailed.
Despite an initial effort to extinguish the blaze, firefighters withdrew from the immediate area on Saturday as fears of toxic gases grew. Cars were still burning on Sunday afternoon, East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick said during a news conference.
‘It got to the point where we needed to pull back and let the safety features of the cars themselves handle the situation,’ Drabick said.
Unmanned devices were then used protectively while crews tried to determine which cars were still on fire.
‘I can’t stress enough that if you’re in the evacuation zone, you need to leave,’ the village mayor Trent Conaway said at the news conference on Sunday. Air quality readings remained safe as of Saturday night.
The train accident sparked a massive fire and evacuation orders, officials and reports said Saturday
The derailment of a cargo train triggered a huge fire and the spillage of hazardous chemicals, forcing the evacuation of 2,000 people from their homes near a village in Ohio
‘Please stay away from East Palestine,’ he said. ‘Please stay away from the wreck. I don’t want to say it’s a dangerous situation, but it is still a very volatile situation.’
Conaway said he arrived on the scene about five minutes after the crash.
‘There were some small explosions, but it could be stuff in the boxcars. We’re not sure. As far as tankers, I don’t think any tankers blew up,’ he said.
Although firefighters quickly started dowsing the fire in water they soon encountered complications.
‘The heat is keeping the fire going, so they’re doing the best they can with water, but water is only going to go so far,’ Conaway said.
‘It’s flammable. It’s the location. The water, it’s cold,’ he added. ‘The water system on that end of town, it’s the end of our system.’
After an initial effort to extinguish the fire on Friday night fire crews pulled back and employed unmanned devices as they tried to locate which cars remained on fire
Ten of the cars that derailed carried hazardous materials, including five with vinyl chloride, said National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham
An evacuation center was set up at East Palestine High School which was being staffed by the American Red Cross
East Palestine officials said emergency responders were monitoring but keeping their distance from the fire, and that remediation efforts could not begin while the cars smoldered.
Conaway said one person was arrested for going around barricades right up to the crash during the night. He warned that more arrests would follow if people did not to stay away.
‘I don’t know why anybody would want to be up there; you’re breathing toxic fumes if you’re that close,’ he said, stressing that monitors of air quality away from the fire showed no levels of concern and the town’s water is safe because it is fed by groundwater unaffected by some material that went into streams.
Environmental protection agency crews were working to remove contaminants from streams and monitor water quality.
Sheriffs went door-to-door Sunday to count residents remaining and urge people within the evacuation area to leave. Schools and village offices will be closed at least through Monday, and businesses within the evacuation zone are not allowed to open Monday, officials said.
Ten of the cars that derailed carried hazardous materials, including five with vinyl chloride, said National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham.
According to Graham the train consisted of 141 load cars, nine were empty, three were locomotives and ten in total contained hazardous material.
Vinyl chloride, a colorless gas, is considered carcinogenic by the US National Cancer Institute and is used to make the white plastic PVC pipes often used in plumbing.
‘It’s an active fire scene,’ said Graham. Low temperatures complicated the clear up efforts, as fire trucks pumping water onto the fire struggled with freezing conditions.
Firefighters wore hazmat suits as they tackled the blaze. Around 2,000 residents, or just less than half of the town’s 5,000 population, were asked to evacuate their homes.