Possible ‘catastrophic’ explosion at Ohio derailment site, officials warn

Train derailment in Ohio
This photo taken with a drone shows, on February 4, 2023, portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed on the night of February 3, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio.

Gene J. Puskar/AP

Officials surveying the tangled, smoldering wreckage of a train derailment in northeast Ohio urgently warned hundreds of nearby residents who had refused to evacuate to do so on Sunday evening, saying a train car risked a potential explosion that could launch deadly shrapnel up to a mile.

They warned of “the potential for a catastrophic tanker failure” after a “drastic temperature change” was observed in that railcar, according to a statement from the office of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. , who said crews were working to prevent an explosion at the scene in eastern Palestine. He did not specify what was in this car or if it was one of those carrying hazardous materials.

Authorities have urged anyone within a one-mile radius of the site to leave immediately. Many did so, but local authorities said more than 500 residents refused to leave, the statement said.

Arrests of people staying put were possible, CBS Pittsburgh reported:

The Columbiana County Director of Emergency Management told CBS Pittsburgh that the condition of one of the derailed cars carrying hazardous materials has deteriorated and there is now much greater concern over a release uncontrolled and an explosion of the car.

Early Monday morning, a small explosion was caught on video as crews continued to work to extinguish the burning cars, CBS Pittsburgh reports:

Federal investigators had announced earlier Sunday that a mechanical problem with a railcar axle caused the flaming derailment near the Pennsylvania state line on Friday night.

Train derailment in Ohio
In this photo provided by Melissa Smith, a train fire is seen from her farm in East Palestine, Ohio, February 3, 2023. A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order in the village of Ohio near the Pennsylvania state line.

(Melissa Smith via AP)

National Transportation Safety Board board member Michael Graham told a news conference that the three-member train crew received an alert about the mechanical defect “shortly before the derailment,” but said the council was still working to determine which car had the problem.

About 50 carriages derailed in eastern Palestine as a train carried a variety of goods from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, rail operator Norfolk Southern said. No injuries to crew, residents or first responders were reported.

Graham said investigators had identified the exact “point of derailment” but did not release the location on Sunday. He said the information will be included in a preliminary investigation report expected next month.

Officials in eastern Palestine said rescue workers were watching but keeping their distance from the fire, and repair efforts could not begin while the cars were smoldering.

Mayor Trent Conaway, who declared a state of emergency in the village, said a person was arrested for skirting barricades until the crash overnight. He warned that more arrests would follow if people did not stay away.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to be up there; you’re breathing in toxic fumes if you’re that close,” he said, pointing out that air quality monitors away from the fire showed no level of concern and that the city’s water is safe because it is fed by groundwater that is unaffected by certain materials that have flowed into the waterways. Environmental Protection Agency crews were working to remove contaminants from the waterways and monitor water quality.

Sheriffs went door-to-door Sunday counting the remaining residents and urging those in the evacuation zone to leave. Schools and offices in the village will be closed at least until Monday, and businesses in the evacuation zone are not allowed to open on Monday, officials said.

Norfolk Southern said 20 of the train’s more than 100 carriages were classified as carrying hazardous materials – defined as cargo that could present any type of hazard “including flammables, combustibles or environmental hazards”.

The NTSB said only 10 cars carrying hazardous materials derailed, and five of them were carrying vinyl chloride, not 14 as reported earlier. Officials stressed on Saturday evening that they had not confirmed the release of vinyl chloride other than pressure relief devices working as expected.

Vinyl chloride, used to make the tough plastic polyvinyl chloride resin in a variety of plastic products, is associated with an increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers, according to the federal government’s National Cancer Institute. .

“Short-term exposure to low levels of substances associated with the derailment does not pose a long-term health risk to residents,” according to a “Frequently Asked Questions” post on the village’s Facebook page. “Vinyl chloride and benzene can cause cancer in people exposed in the workplace to high concentrations for many years; however, there is no evidence that potential exposure that occurred after the derailment increased the risk of cancer or any other long-term health effects in members of the community.”

Officials said Sunday afternoon that the cars involved were also carrying combustible liquids, butyl acrylate and benzene residue from previous shipments, as well as non-hazardous materials such as wheat, plastic pellets , malt liquors and lubricating oil.

The evacuation order covered the homes of 1,500 to 2,000 of the town’s 4,800 to 4,900 residents, but officials said it was unclear how many were actually affected. Most of those who had gone to an emergency shelter were gone by Sunday.

Norfolk Southern has opened a help desk in the village to gather information from affected residents. Village officials said 75 people went to the center on Saturday and around 100 went there on Sunday morning.


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