East Palestine is under a mandatory evacuation and possible explosion warning after a toxic train derailment

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EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (ideastream) — Residents within a one mile radius of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, are under a mandatory evacuation.

One of the train cars that derailed Friday night has experienced a “drastic temperature change,” according to a press release from Gov. Mike DeWine’s office, “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 train was carrying the known carcinogens benzene and vinyl chloride, according to the Columbiana County EMA’s Facebook page.

“There is a high probability of a toxic gas release and or explosion,” the EMA posted Sunday night.

Nearly 5,000 residents of East Palestine, a town about 20 miles south of Youngstown along the Pennsylvania border, have been evacuated from their homes. The Ohio National Guard has been activated to help local authorities who say more than 500 people remain.

The 50-car Norfolk Southern train derailed around 9 p.m. Friday night. Ten cars carried hazardous materials. The three crew members aboard the train were not injured, the National Transportation Safety Board’s Michael Graham said at a Sunday afternoon press conference.

Based on interviews with crew members Sunday, a wayside defect detector indicated a mechanical issue, Graham said.

The crew applied the emergency breaks, and after the derailment, the conductor decoupled the locomotives from the rail cars, moving them to a safe location, Graham said. The NTSB has found the location it believes the derailment occurred, but did not disclose that information.

An overhead shot of rail cars shown off the track with some on fire.
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk 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]
Videos preliminarily indicate a mechanical issue with one of the rail car axles, and the NTSB says, it is working to identify the car.

The NTSB has acquired the train’s data recorder as well as video and audio recordings. Its preliminary report is expected in four to six weeks.

Despite a strong odor in East Palestine, Columbiana County Emergency officials said air monitoring shows that “the air in the community is safe.”

The Red Cross is overseeing shelter operations including meals and bedding at East Palestine Junior and Senior High. Classes are canceled Monday.


Additional reporting from The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant.