A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order in an Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line on Friday night, 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.
In a press conference on Saturday, the National Transportation Safety Board said investigators have not yet been able to enter the accident site due to active fire and hazardous materials. First responders found evidence of one of the train cars releasing vinyl chloride, NTSB member Michael Graham said at the press conference.
Vinyl chloride is used to make the polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin used in a variety of plastic products, including pipes, wires and packaging materials. Vinyl chloride is associated with an increased risk of a rare form of liver cancer and other cancers, according to the federal government’s National Cancer Institute. There were other hazardous materials on the trains that still needed to be identified, said the NTSB. Ruben Payan, who has been at the NTSB for 25 years, will lead the investigation.
Local officials notified residents that an evacuation order remained in place Saturday morning for people within a mile of the scene, and on Saturday morning, a state of emergency was declared in the town. 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.”
Mayor Trent Conaway told reporters that firefighters from three states responded due to the location of the derailment about 51 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and within 20 miles of the tip of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.
Freezing temperatures in the single digits complicated the response as trucks pumping water froze, Conaway said.
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. [CBS News]
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