EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order and a declaration of a state of emergency in an Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line, covering the area in billows of smoke lit orange by the flames below.
About 50 cars derailed in East Palestine as a train was carrying a variety of freight from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, rail operator Norfolk Southern said in a statement Saturday. There was no immediate information about what caused the derailment. No injuries were reported.
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Mayor Trent Conaway of the village of East Palestine declared a state of emergency, citing a “train derailment with hazardous materials.” Air quality was being monitored throughout a one-mile zone ordered evacuated and there had been no dangerous readings to report, he said.
Norfolk Southern said 20 of the more than 100 cars were classified as carrying hazardous materials — defined as cargo that could pose any kind of danger “including flammables, combustibles, or environmental risks.” Graham said 14 cars carrying vinyl chloride were involved in the derailment “and have been exposed to fire,” and at least one “is intermittently releasing the contents of the car through a pressure release device as designed.”
“At this time we are working to verify which hazardous materials cars, if any, have been breached,” he said. The Environmental Protection Agency and Norfolk Southern were continuing to monitor air quality, and investigators would begin their on-scene work “once the scene is safe and secure,” he said.
Vinyl chloride, used to make the polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin used in a variety of plastic products, is associated with increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers, according to the federal government’s National Cancer Institute. Federal officials said they were also concerned about other possibly hazardous materials.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday that it was “launching a go-team to investigate” the derailment, and board member Michael Graham would “serve as spokesperson on scene."
Firefighters had been pulled from the immediate area and unmanned stream devices are being used protectively while crews try to determine which cars were still actively burning, village officials said in a separate statement Saturday that warned residents that they might hear more explosions as the fire burns.
A high school and community center were opened to shelter dozens of people, while residents beyond that radius were urged to stay inside. The few dozen residents sheltering at the high school included Ann McAnlis, who said a neighbor had texted her about the crash.
“She took a picture of the glow in the sky from the front porch,” McAnlis told WFMJ-TV. “That’s when I knew how substantial this was.”
Conaway said firefighters from three states responded. The derailment happened about 51 miles (82 kilometers) northwest of Pittsburgh and within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the tip of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle. Freezing temperatures in the single digits complicated the response as trucks pumping water froze, he said.
Train derailment in Ohio
Norfolk Southern said it has personnel on-site coordinating with first responders. The fire created so much smoke that meteorologists from the region said it was visible on weather radar.
On Sunday afternoon, the East Palestine City School District announced that schools will be closed on Monday, Feb. 6, due to the current state of emergency.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above previously aired on 3News on Feb. 3, 2023.