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 in a nearby village in Ohio.
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.
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.
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
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
‘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.
‘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
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.
Officials asked anyone living within a one-mile radius of the scene to leave and established an evacuation center at East Palestine High School, which was being staffed by the American Red Cross.