A train derailment and subsequent large fire caused a state of emergency to be declared and an evacuation order to be issued in an Ohio village close to the Pennsylvania border on Friday night.
The area was blanketed with smoke from the orange-lit flames.
According to a statement from rail operator Norfolk Southern, about 50 cars derailed in East Palestine as a train was transporting various freight from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania. The cause of the derailment is currently unknown and there were no reports of injuries.
Mayor Trent Conaway of East Palestine declared a state of emergency, citing a train derailment with hazardous materials. Norfolk Southern stated that the train was carrying more than 100 cars, 20 of which were classified as hazardous materials, meaning they could pose any kind of danger, including environmental risks, flammables, or combustibles.
The National Transportation Safety Board announced that it was launching a team to investigate the derailment and board member Michael Graham would serve as spokesperson on the scene.
Firefighters have been moved away from the immediate area and unmanned firefighting devices are being utilized for protection while crews assess which cars are still burning. Village officials stated in a separate statement that they hope to use drones to evaluate the scene during daylight hours and warned that residents may hear more explosions as the fire continues to burn.
The village informed residents that the evacuation order remains in place for those within a mile of the scene. A high school and community center have been opened to provide shelter for dozens of people and residents beyond the one-mile radius have been advised to stay inside.
Train derailment has caused a massive fire and explosion in East Palestine, Ohio, which is NW of Pittsburgh
The train was carrying more than 100 oil tanker cars when it derailed and crashed into a gas station.Nearby neighborhoods are under mandatory evacuation. pic.twitter.com/ZVLjiwb8jJ
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) February 4, 2023
The dozens of residents who sought shelter at the high school included Ann McAnlis, who stated that she learned about the train crash from a neighbor who sent her a text message. McAnlis told WFMJ-TV that her neighbor sent her a picture of the glow in the sky, which showed how significant the incident was.
Mayor Conaway informed reporters that firefighters from three different states arrived at the scene to assist. The derailment occurred about 51 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and within 20 miles of the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.
The freezing temperatures, which were in the single digits, posed challenges for the response efforts as the trucks that were used to pump water froze, according to Conaway.
Hazmat crews were also dispatched to the scene to assess if hazardous materials were involved and the air quality in the area is being monitored, as per the officials.
Norfolk Southern stated that they have personnel at the site working in coordination with the first responders.
The smoke from the fire was so intense that meteorologists in the region reported that it was visible on weather radar.