EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — A fire is still burning at the site of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border. Crews at the scene Monday night did a controlled release and burn of toxic chemicals from the train cars. A massive fireball and a thick plume of black smoke could be seen from the wreckage, which has been there since the crash on Friday night.
"It’s basically a mushroom cloud," said Josh Munyon, East Palestine resident. "Really no other way to describe it."
Munyon lives two miles from the derailment and said despite the potential explosion possibly resulting in death, leaving was out of the question.
"We were kind of in the mindset of if they don’t come knocking, we aren’t going to go," Munyon added.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro provided additional details Monday during a news conference about the status of the controlled burn and cleanup.
Shapiro said the fire is still burning and smoke is drifting, but the air and water quality nearby is fine and there are no current concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the situation.
East Palestine resident, Richard Daily, is taking extra precautions.
"I’m four blocks outside the radius, but I’m still concerned," said Daily. "I just put tape on my doors so no chemicals can't come in, because I take care of my mother so I want her to be safe."
Once the fire cools down, crews will move in to start the clean up. Shapiro and Gov. Mike DeWine have been in contact, he said, and a plan is being formulated to get nearby residents, who were displaced due to an evacuation, back to their homes. No timetable has been announced to bring the residents back at this time.
"If anyone wants to come down here, don’t," Daily added. "It’s not safe right now."
You can watch Shapiro's news conference in the player below:
Authorities are encouraging everyone to stay away from the wreckage.
East Palestine Fire officials told News 5 that a tanker was blown up because they thought it was at risk, resulting in the fireball caught on camera.
A statement from Norfolk Southern, the company that operated the derailed train cars, confirmed the controlled breach was successful:
The controlled breach of several rail cars has been completed successfully under the supervision of experts and first responders. Some of the material is now burning off consistent with expectations from the earlier models, and is expected to drain for a short number of hours. We have been, and will continue, monitoring air quality with the Ohio EPA. Remediation work at the site can now safely continue.
You can see the fireball and smoke plume from the tanker explosion and controlled release in the player below:
The smoke plume could be seen on News 5 doppler radar:
Impressive smoke plume from the East Palestine, OH Train Derailment showing up on the Power of 5 High Resolution Radar. Officials have initiated a controlled burn of several train cars containing toxic chemicals#ohwx @wews pic.twitter.com/oGiMR665TI— Trent Magill (@TrentMWeather) February 6, 2023
Earlier, Gov. Mike DeWine and Columbiana County officials urged residents of East Palestine who live within one mile of the train derailment to evacuate the area due to the potential for a "catastrophic tanker failure," according to a press release from the Governor's office.
The map below shows the one to two-mile area that could have been affected by the controlled release. This area is in both Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“Everyone who’s in Ohio and Pennsylvania in this area — you need to leave. You just need to leave. We’re ordering you to leave. This is a matter of life and death,” DeWine said during the press conference.
Residents living in the red area are facing grave danger of death should toxins be released into the air as a result of the controlled release. Those in the orange area are at risk of severe injury, skin burns and serious lung damage. The black line represents the total area of concern that could be affected in the worst-case scenario.
According to a news release from the governor's office:
In Ohio, the areas at risk include eastern East Palestine, including Parker, South Pleasant, BFI Access Road, Taggart Street, North Pleasant Road, Failor Road, and East Martin, east of Pleasant. Those who need help evacuating the area should call 330-457-0733 or 330-457-2455. According to the Columbiana County Sheriff, those with children in their homes who decline to evacuate may be subject to arrest.
In Pennsylvania, anyone needing assistance should call the State Police Beaver Station at 724-773-7400. Anyone in the area in need of information regarding the evacuation and shelter in place orders should call Beaver County Emergency Services at 724-775-0880.
The chemical of concern inside the Norfolk Southern railroad cars is vinyl chloride, a chemical used to make PVC, a hard plastic resin.
The coverage below is from the Monday morning news conference explaining the planned controlled release.
The controlled release will allow experts to control how the materials inside of the train cars are dispersed by placing each car in a trench and cutting a 2-3 inch hole into it, according to Norfolk Southern official Scott Deutsch. This will allow the materials to come out of the train car and into a pit and trench that has been dug for this operation. Flares inside that pit will light off the material.
"We're doing this so that we control this tank car that we have concerns with, these tank cars. This allows us to control that operation and not have the car react and do it itself," Deutsch said.
The controlled release is to avoid a potential explosion; the possibility of an explosion was shared in a press release:
"Within the last two hours, a drastic temperature change has taken place in a rail car, and there is now the potential of a catastrophic tanker failure which could cause an explosion with the potential of deadly shrapnel traveling up to a mile."
The controlled release could last anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the amount of material inside the five cars, Deutsch said. Norfolk Southern officials believe two cars are completely full with the other three cars being half full.
The governor's news release states it is unknown how long residents will have to wait before returning to their homes, but an announcement will be made when it is safe to return.
The number of residents who have declined to leave their homes is currently unknown as of Monday afternoon, local officials said.
City and state officials already went door-to-door urging everyone in the affected area to evacuate, and plan to go door-to-door again Monday afternoon before the controlled release to order anyone remaining to leave immediately.
In order to provide an extra layer of safety, power will be cut to the area in the evacuation zone, officials said.
U.S. and Ohio EPA officials will continue monitoring air quality for two byproducts of the burning of the chemicals in the truck: phosgene and hydrogen chloride.
According to James Justice from the Ohio EPA, the air monitoring has not produced sustained readings of these two byproducts, therefore the air quality does not present a health concern at this time.
Air monitoring will continue through the controlled release with real-time results so that if the air quality does become a concern, officials will be made aware as soon as possible and can react quickly, said Justice.
The Ohio EPA will also be closely monitoring water runoff around the area of the controlled release. Kurt Koehler with the Ohio EPA said that there are protective levels to the area's groundwater, and there is nothing at this time to indicate that chemicals have seeped into the city's wellfield. The EPA is working with Norfolk Southern and their consultants for the evaluation of long-term options for the cleanup of any leeching that would cause a long-term threat.
Koehler went on to say that groundwater wells are protected as they don't take in surface water.
News 5 spoke to a family that lives two miles from the train derailment. Rick Clemmer said he can still smell the train cars burning.
"I had security cameras outside that showed a flame coming off the train when it passed our house because the train tracks are right in front of me in front of the porch," Clemmer said.
DeWine activated the Ohio National Guard at 8 p.m. on Sunday night to "assist local authorities."
Clemmer said his family wasn't planning on leaving, but are now packing their items.
"We are getting stuff ready now. We are going to go to her moms out in News Castle, packing up clothes dog cages for the dogs," he said. "I don’t know if it’d reach way up here, but they’re talking about moving the radius out because there is a danger of it exploding out because the safety features are failing."
If you need assistance leaving the area, please contact 330-426-4341. Those who have children in their homes and refuse to leave the area may be subject to arrest, the release said.
People are being asked to evacuate and shelter at the East Palestine Junior and Senior High School, according to Peggy Clark, the director of the Columbiana County EMA.
Following an evening briefing regarding the train derailment in East Palestine, Governor DeWine and Columbiana County officials are issuing an urgent warning to those living within a mile of the derailment. Within the last two hours, a drastic temperature change has taken place in a rail car, and there is now the potential of a catastrophic tanker failure which could cause an explosion with the potential of deadly shrapnel traveling up to a mile.
Although teams are working to prevent an explosion from happening, residents living within a mile of the site are advised to immediately leave the area. While most individuals in the one-mile radius have already evacuated, local officials say that more than 500 people have declined to leave their homes.
Those who have the means to leave are advised to immediately evacuate. Those who need help evacuating the area should call 330-426-4341. According to the Columbiana County Sheriff, those with children in their homes who decline to evacuate may be subject to arrest.
At approximately 8 p.m., Governor DeWine activated the Ohio National Guard to deploy to the scene to assist local authorities. The Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Emergency Management Agency, and Ohio EPA are also assisting.
The train initially derailed on Friday night. Surveillance video from Cardinal Welding in East Palestine captured the moment of the derailment:
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