Ohio officials are urgently calling for evacuation orders as they scramble to burn off chemicals left over from a train that recently derailed. According to reports, after the Norfolk Southern train derailed on Friday in East Palestine, Ohio, officials are now doing everything they can to prevent a major explosion.
According to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, residents in a 1-mile by 2-mile area surrounding East Palestine must evacuate their homes immediately. The area also includes parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“The vinyl chloride contents of five rail cars are currently unstable and could potentially explode, causing deadly disbursement of shrapnel and toxic fumes,” the governor’s office said in a statement on Monday.
It continued: “To alleviate the risk of uncontrollable shrapnel from an explosion, Norfolk Southern Railroad is planning a controlled release of the vinyl chloride at approximately 3:30 p.m. today.”
In addition, state officials posted a map that shows a red and yellow zone, two areas downwind from the burn. However, Norfolk Southern reports that anyone in the red area could be affected by lethal toxins. They add that people in the yellow area could contract “skin burns and serious lung damage.”
Before the train ran off its set course, it traveled from Illinois to Pennsylvania. It then derailed around 9 p.m. on Friday and caught fire. East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway said more than 50 fire departments across three states responded to the incident.
According to Janet Meek, who resides just one block from the train tracks, she heard a “loud boom” that night. Meek’s husband also said he could see a “billowing ball of fire” while walking their dogs.
Firefighters work to contain fire following train derailment
On Sunday, the National Transportation Safety Board released two videos showing mechanical issues on one rail car’s axle. According to the agency, the conductor activated the emergency brake when railroad crews heard an alarm going off. Thankfully, they also reported that there were no injuries.
Fire chief Keith Drabick later told outlets that the train was transporting dangerous substances but could not confirm if the fire caused damage to the train cars carrying the high-risk materials.
Drabick added that the smell lingering in the tows was not dangerous at its current levels, but the Environmental Protection Agency representatives carefully followed the situation.
The community of East Palestine is a small town that sits on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio. It’s home to nearly 4,700 residents.
On Saturday evening, firefighters had to fall back from the fire as the air quality and explosion risk proved too high.
According to Conaway, firefighters planned to reengage with the containment of the fire once they got a “better grasp of what exactly is what chemical is burning.”
During Saturday’s press conference, Drabick said multiple explosions had occurred overnight, which also posed a danger to firefighters.