Ohio train derailment sparks massive fire, prompts evacuations
A train derailment sparked a huge fire in eastern Ohio on Friday night, prompting authorities to order many townspeople to evacuate as crews assessed whether cargo contained toxic materials, officials said. authorities.
The risk of injury remained a concern on Sunday due to the lingering threat of a potential explosion, officials said.
About 50 cars derailed around 9 p.m. Friday in East Palestine, Ohio, which has a population of 4,700 and is about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.
On Saturday, local and federal officials and Norfolk Southern, the rail operator, were still investigating the cause of the derailment, which sparked a fire that swept through much of the city in smoke and cast a red glow over homes in the region at night.
Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio issued a emergency evacuation notice Sunday evening to more than 500 people who had previously refused to leave their homes and were within a one-mile radius of the derailment site.
“In the past two hours, a drastic change in temperature has occurred in a railcar, and there is now the potential for a catastrophic tanker failure which could cause an explosion with the potential for fatal shrapnel traveling up to one mile,” Governor DeWine said in a statement.
“Those who have children in their homes and refuse to evacuate can be arrested,” Governor DeWine added.
No injuries or deaths were reported, Trent Conaway, the mayor of eastern Palestine, said at a press conference on Saturday. But 1,500 to 2,000 residents had been told to evacuate the area near the derailment, officials said.
Videos and photos of the blaze showed billowing smoke overnight as emergency vehicles rushed to the site. On Saturday morning, some train cars continued to burn, emitting gray puffs across eastern Palestine. Officials said there had been several explosions, including some on Saturday morning.
It is not immediately known how many cars caught fire.
East Palestine Fire Chief Keith A. Drabick said on Saturday that officials have been monitoring the air quality and “so far so good.”
But, he added, authorities still did not know if burning the materials was dangerous. He noted that the train, which was traveling from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, was carrying materials that could be hazardous.
“If you have to come to eastern Palestine, don’t,” Chief Drabick said. “Stay out of the area until we can mitigate this.”
The possible product investigators were most concerned about burning, he said, was vinyl chloride, a colorless, flammable gas that is toxic to people.
“The wagon that was carrying this is doing its job,” Chief Drabick said. “The safety device on this car is still working.”
Drones were deployed to the site on Saturday to determine what was burning, he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the incident. The Ohio Highway Patrol and emergency management and environmental protection agencies also responded. The governor deployed the Ohio National Guard to the site of the derailment on Sunday.
The sprawling blaze has led more than two dozen agencies from other states to travel to eastern Palestine to help with containment and investigation. Firefighters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia also responded.
Officials said the main concern Saturday was the potential for poor air quality. Mr Conaway, who declared a state of emergency in the community, said he lived on the outskirts of town and it smelled “awful” there.
“Check your family members for respiratory issues,” he said. “You might want to get them out of here.”
April Rubin contributed report.