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East Palestine Train Derailment: Evacuations ordered with rail car at risk for explosion following massive fire

Rail car at risk for catastrophic failure and explosion after train derailment in East Palestine
Rail car at risk for catastrophic failure and explosion after train derailment in East Palestine 04:35

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (KDKA) — Over 48 hours after a train derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border Friday night, a fire continues to burn and evacuation orders have been issued ahead of a possible explosion. 

Early Monday morning, a small explosion was caught on video as crews continued to work to put out the burning rail cars.

On Sunday, an emergency alert was issued to residents within the one-mile radius of the area, asking anyone within that area to evacuate immediately due to concerns over a possible explosion.

The Columbiana County Emergency Management Director tells KDKA's Lauren Linder that the condition of one of the derailed train cars carrying vinyl chloride has degraded and that there's now a much higher concern for an uncontrolled release and explosion of the car.

Gov. DeWine issues evacuation notice in East Palestine, Oh. 02:54

The Columbiana County Sheriff's Office says that individuals will face charges if they don't adhere to evacuation orders surrounding the train derailment. 

In the wake of the new risk of explosion, Gov. Mike DeWine is deploying the Ohio National Guard to East Palestine as concerns grow surrounding the situation.

Gov. DeWine said that is an explosion were to occur, there's the potential for deadly shrapnel to travel up to one mile.

The NTSB staged a second press conference on Sunday as crews continue to manage the wreckage of the train derailment.

The NTSB continues to gather any perishable evidence from the scene and analysis of the incident will begin once all evidence is gathered. Any safety recommendations to prevent future accidents will be made after the analysis period, NTSB official Michael Graham said.

NTSB Media Brief 2: Norfolk Southern Freight Train Derailment (02/04/23) by NTSBgov on YouTube

Norfolk Southern provided a list of frequently asked questions related to the train derailment, the contents of the cars, and more. 

The ten hazardous material cars will be moved to a temporary staging area for further assessment once the scene is safe. The site remains active and dangerous. Drones will continue to be utilized to assist in the surveying of damage.

Officials were able to recover the locomotive data recorder on Sunday as well as forward and in-facing camera video and audio recordings. This data will be reviewed and then sent to the NTSB's vehicle data recorder lab in Washington D.C. for a thorough evaluation.

Video obtained from the wreck shows preliminary indications of mechanical issues on one of the railway axles, Graham added. More analysis of the video is needed before a conclusion can be reached.

Members of the train crew also were interviewed by the NTSB, according to Graham. The crew did receive an alarm from a waist-side defect detector shortly before the derailment, indicating a mechanical issue, per Graham.

The crew's statements are in the process of being verified with the data recorder to further analyze the crew's conduct before and during the derailment.

The NTSB has requested records from Norfolk-Southern, including track inspection records, locomotive and railcar inspections, maintenance records, train crew records, and qualifications, Graham added. Additionally, the track team on Sunday conducted a one-mile walk-through of the track outside the hot zone, and they were able to identify the point of derailment.

The on-scene portion of the investigation will continue as long as necessary, Graham noted.

Original story below.

Twenty-four hours after a train derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border Friday night, a fire continues to burn, and chemicals from the wreckage are being released into the air. 

Train Derailment Ohio
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. Gene J. Puskar / AP

First responders are now staying back and mandating the public do the same, as hazmat teams, specialists, and investigators from Norfolk Southern, environmental agencies, and the National Transportation Safety Board step in. This all as Mayor Trent Conaway declared a state of emergency for the Village of East Palestine, Ohio.

As of Saturday night, officials said air quality readings remained safe, and there still were not any reports of injuries to the train crew, first responders, or members of the community. The fire has reduced intensity but remains active, and two main tracks are still blocked.

According to NTSB member Michael Graham, the train consisted of 141 load cars, nine empties, and three locomotives, with 20 containing hazardous materials. Fifty of the cars derailed, including 10 containing hazardous materials. Five of the ten hazmat cars were carrying a chemical called vinyl chloride.

Dispatchers received the 911 call just before 9 p.m. Friday, for a Norfolk Southern train that crashed by the North Pleasant Railroad Crossing. It was traveling from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania.

SEE ITPhoto gallery of East Palestine train derailment 

The derailment started a massive fire with orange flames lighting up the sky in the village with a population of 4,800 to 4,900 people.

First responders from nearly 70 emergency agencies from Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania quickly mobilized.

Officers went down street-by-street to block off traffic and evacuate a one-mile radius from the site. Conaway said about 2,000 people live within that area, but it's unclear how many left their homes.

The village set up shelters at East Palestine High School and New Waterford Community Center. School bus drivers helped shuttle evacuees.

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," Conaway said.

Fire crews immediately started pouring water on the flames but quickly came across some difficulties.


"It's flammable. It's the location. The water, it's cold," Conaway said. "The water system on that end of town, it's the end of our system."

Conaway said they tried to keep up by shuttling tankers with water."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.

Local crews also realized they would need other forms of assistance from hazmat teams and private companies. 

They brought in the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Beaver County hazmat from Pennsylvania, Columbiana County hazmat from Ohio, six ambulance companies, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Columbiana County Emergency Management, and the Columbiana County Sheriff's Office.

Teams from a refinery in West Virginia called Ergon and from the Shell plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania, traveled to the scene to help local agencies by transporting foam to spray on the flames. However, officials said crews have yet to use the foam.

Village Fire Chief Keith Drabick described the directions their receiving from hazmat teams and specialists with Norfolk Southern and the environmental agencies in Ohio and Pennsylvania, which are monitoring air quality.

"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.

A train derailment caused a massive fire caused in Ohio on Feb. 3, 2023.  Submitted

Investigators learned five tank cars in the derailment were carrying vinyl chloride. The NTSB said they are slowly releasing it into the air, which means safety release devices on the tankers are doing their job.

"One of the cars is releasing some of its pressure, and that is normal; that's how that car is designed to keep it from exploding or anything like that," Graham said.

Conaway said they're being told they need to let the fire burn.

Investigators and specialists are still identifying other chemicals in the cars, using drones and other technology in the process.

The NTSB and specialists from the Federal Rail Administration will also dig through video and data recorders from the train cars once they can.

"The locomotives were equipped with forward-facing image recorders and event data recorders. Event data recorders could provide investigators with information such as train speed, throttle position, and brake applications," Graham said.

Graham said the speed limit on the track is 45 miles per hour.

A federal investigation is officially underway, but it is the start of a long process.

"Our team methodically and systematically reviews all evidence and considers all potential factors to determine the probable cause and make any necessary, safety recommendations," Graham said.

In the meantime, local leaders urge the public to stay back.

"You're putting yourself and us in danger. Stop," Drabick said. "Let us handle the situation. All we want is the safety of the citizens and residents."

Conaway said they will consider taking action against anyone who sneaks past the barriers.

A preliminary report on the accident is expected in four-to-six weeks, while a full NTSB investigation report will not be finalized for another 18-to-24 months.

Village leaders said the water could have a slight discoloration, but it is safe, and crews are continuing to test it. They also said people are not allowed to fly personal drones in and around the area.

According to the mayor, at least ten businesses remain closed near the crash site. Conaway said it happened near a Marathon Fuel gas station and right behind a home heating oil supplier. Fire crews quickly took steps to protect those businesses, along with others in the area, removing any items of concern, like fuel products.

On Saturday, the mayor clarified that no structures were damaged. Earlier he said one caught fire that crews quickly knocked down.

As for the strain this has put on the small village, Conaway said they're working together with the surrounding agencies.

"We have great first responders, police, and fire department. We have a great crew," Conaway said. "We get along with all the neighboring towns, police, and fire so you know, it's a big brotherhood here."

NTSB Provides Update On East Palestine Train Derailment 03:53

It's not exactly the type of incident they're used to.

"It's a very big event. Not many people have seen this in their history, in their careers as firefighters, so this is something they're coming into that's you know, you can train for it, but you really can't train for something this big," Conaway said.

KDKA crews on the scene witnessed trucks hauling in new train tracks to the village throughout the afternoon and evening Saturday. Officials said Norfolk Southern is staging to prepare for the time they can go in and repair the tracks.

Norfolk Southern also established a Family Assistance Center at the East Palestine City Park Community Center. It will be open on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The evacuation center at East Palestine Jr. Sr. High School is also still open and is staffed by the American Red Cross.

The public can call 211 for updates on the situation in the village.

Train derailment leads to fire in East Palestine 01:27
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