Train derailment sparks massive fire in Ohio, prompts evacuations
EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – Part of the town of East Palestine, Ohio, is under an evacuation order after a train derailment caused a massive fire Friday night that was still burning into Saturday morning.
There is a shelter-in-place order for the rest of the community.
The Norfolk Southern train, which totaled around 50 cars, derailed around 9 p.m. Friday along the east-west tracks that run through East Palestine, on the outskirts of town near the Pennsylvania border. The fire is still burning Saturday morning, but said to be under control.
Several explosions were heard amid the blazes, and those explosions may continue as the train — which was comprised of tanker cars, box cars and a car hauling automobiles — continues to burn.
There were no fatalities or significant injuries as a result of the accident, according to East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway.
“The train crew was fine,” Mayor Conaway said.
As of Saturday morning, there was no indication of how the train derailed.
At a 6:30 a.m. press conference, officials announced a mandatory evacuation order for those living east of Market Street to Highland and Jimtown Roads, an area that affects about 1,500 to 2,000 residents.
Conaway declared a state of emergency just before 9:30 a.m. Saturday, allowing the Village of East Palestine to exercise all emergency authority for protection during the crisis.
“We have multiple HAZMAT teams on the scene,” said Mayor Conaway. “Norfolk Southern’s here with its HAZMAT team, too, to determine the possible chemicals that were involved.”
When speaking of which chemicals might be burning, Conaway said, “We don’t know 100% for sure.”
A no-fly zone has also been established within a one-mile radius of the scene. Officials are asking the public to avoid the area.
“We are asking residents not to drive around,” Conaway said. “Fire trucks are flying up and down the road. They’re tanker trucks. They’re full of water. They leak.”
The mayor says 43 residents are currently in a shelter.
Drone video at the peak of the fire shows the flames stretching for around a half mile along the tracks. The plume of smoke could be seen 10 miles away and was easily picked up on weather radar.
Fifty fire departments from three states responded to help fight the fire, including crews from virtually every fire department in the Columbiana and Mahoning counties of Ohio.
“The initial challenge was just not knowing what we were dealing with,” said Battalion Chief Brian Rutledge, who was part of the first fire crew on the scene.
One of the biggest issues facing firefighters were temperatures between 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit. Mayor Conaway said the hydrants were working fine, but the trucks pumping the water were freezing up.
High school students Jacob Griffith and Cami Kridler had attended the basketball game and were headed out for something to eat when they saw the fire.
“We just looked to our left and a giant explosion, probably at least 200 feet, and we’re like, ‘Oh my God. What do we do?'”
“I was actually the one that dialed 911,” said Kridler. “We all saw the same thing. One of our friends said, ‘Hey something blew up.'”
Officials are expected to give updates on the incident at a 1:30 p.m. press conference.
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