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EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — Thick smoke and flames could be seen from the site of an East Palestine train derailment as crews began releasing slowly venting chemicals from the train cars.
The release of chemicals was part of a plan to mitigate the explosive risk from the site, which was announced by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine Monday morning during his stop in East Palestine.
Norfolk Southern said that release was successful on Monday afternoon. Some of the material is now burning off and is expected to drain within hours.
“We have been, and will continue, monitoring air quality with the Ohio EPA. Remediation work at the site can now safely continue,” Norfolk Southern said in a release Monday.
At approximately 8 p.m., Gov. 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 Environmental Protection Agency are also assisting.
To protect the environment, Norfolk Southern said it prepared pits and embankments to drain the material into which will then be remediated.
“It will go into a pit, a trench that we have dug and set up for this operation,’ said Scott Deutsch, a spokesperson for Norfolk-Southern Railroad. “Inside that trench, there will be flares lining that trench that then will light off the material.”
Crews warned that the release would be “loud and visual,” though they warned people not to stick around to watch due to the danger of death or injuries. It was expected to take one to three hours.
“This is the red area are facing grave danger of death if they are still in that area,” DeWine said.
Sunday night, an emergency evacuation notice was issued for a mile radius around the train derailment fire. The order was effective as of 8:45 p.m. Sunday.
State officials in Ohio and Pennsylvania are now asking residents within a one-mile by two-mile radius to evacuate the area.
Officials say they are concerned about the following locations: Parker, South Pleasant, the BFI Access Road, Taggart Street, North Pleasant Drive, Failer Street and East Martin east of Pleasant.
The evacuation extends into Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Township officials were going door to door in Darlington Township to evacuate the Pennsylvania residents.
Pa. Gov. Josh Shapiro also held a press conference on Monday afternoon, warning residents nearby to evacuate.
Charges, including child endangerment, can and will be filed for those who stay in the evacuation zone, officials say. Those who need help evacuating the area should call 330-426-4341.
Multiple roads are also closed around the evacuation site.
A drastic temperature change in one of the rail cars prompted the emergency warning that was sent out by Gov. DeWine’s office on Sunday. There is now the potential for a catastrophic tanker failure, which could cause an explosion with the potential of deadly shrapnel traveling up to a mile.
The planned controlled release of the toxic chemicals was to alleviate the explosive risk, but there is a risk of breathing in those fumes.
The train, pulling 150-200 cars, derailed Friday around 9 p.m., on the east end of East Palestine near the Pennsylvania border. The fire that ensued stretched from one-quarter to one-half mile along the tracks. The glow of the fire could be seen 10 miles away.
Norfolk Southern released a statement Sunday detailing what the train was hauling.
“Cars involved in the derailment contained vinyl chloride, combustible liquids, butyl acrylate, benzene residue cars (railroad cars that previously contained benzene,” the release stated, “and nonhazardous materials such as wheat, plastic pellets, malt liquors and lube oil.”
At a second news conference on Sunday, Michael Graham of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said there were “10 hazardous material cars” involved in the derailment.
Graham’s investigative team located the train’s data recorder, forward and inward camera video, and audio recordings that were on the train. He did not say what was on the recorder or the recordings but said the investigation was making progress.
“We have obtained two videos which show preliminary indications of mechanical issues on one of the railcar axles,” said Graham. “We’re working to identify which railcar experienced the potential mechanical issue for further examination.”
Graham said there were three Norfolk Southern employees working on the train – an engineer, conductor, and a conductor trainee – who have been interviewed, none of whom were hurt.
“The crew did receive an alarm from a wayside defect protector shortly before the derailment indicating a mechanical issue. Then an emergency brake application initiated,” said Graham.
Graham said after the train stopped, the conductor decoupled the locomotives from the railcars and moved them to a safe location.
An NTSB crew has also conducted a one-mile walk-through of the railroad tracks outside of the hot zone.
“They were able to identify the point of derailment,” said Graham, though he wouldn’t say where the point of derailment occurred or release any details of what may have happened.
Dispatchers in East Palestine are among those who have been evacuated, according to East Palestine Police Department.
For East Palestine, New Waterford and Negley non-emergency calls, the public should call 330-921-9254 or 330-457-0733.
Mayor Trent Conaway also asked people living in East Palestine needing assistance to call 211 instead of the city’s dispatch.
911 calls are still operating as normal.
Peggy Clark, Director of the Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency, said an evacuation shelter remains in place at East Palestine Junior/Senior High School. It’s being staffed by the Red Cross with meals and a place to stay.
Clark said Norfolk Southern opened a family assistance center in the East Palestine Park Community Center, but as of Monday moved that shelter to Abundant Life Fellowship Church in New Waterford because of road closures in the area. The address of the church is 46469 Route 46, New Waterford, Ohio. It will open at noon Monday and be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the duration of the evacuation.
“It’s a place where residents can go to get information regarding temporary housing, any out-of-pocket expenses they have occurred or any other support they may need,” said Clark, who added that 75 people used the center on Saturday and 100 on Sunday.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as of Monday afternoon, there have been no sustained readings that would indicate any health concerns in the air. Monitoring will continue, however.
According to the Ohio EPA, some runoff did make its way into the nearby water, but officials say they were able to control that runoff and are continuing to treat and monitor the situation. There was an impact on fish, but there is nothing to indicate a threat to the city’s wellfield, officials said. The EPA is looking into the effects on private groundwater wells in the area.
“We have been able to successfully control that runoff and contain the water and either treat it in place along with a robust sampling program,” said Kirk Killar, a spokesperson for the Ohio EPA.