Toxic chemicals were released into the air Monday from five derailed tanker cars after officials warned nearby residents to flee or remain in a potentially deadly situation.
The controlled release of dangerous vinyl chloride from the five rail cars in danger of exploding came after Friday’s train derailment in a tiny Ohio village of East Palestine.
Flames and thick black smoke could still be seen in the sky over the derailment site in the late afternoon on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
Hours before the vinyl chloride was released, authorities were once again going door-to-door to make sure residents in the area had evacuated following previous instructions to flee the area.
“You need to leave, you just need to leave. This is a matter of life and death,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said at a news conference. He added that depending how close residents were to the crash, they could be in “grave danger of death,” according to WFMJ.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro urged residents in his state within two miles of the derailment to stay inside and keep all doors and windows tightly shut through the evening as a precaution. About 20 homes in Pennsylvania were under a mandate to evacuate.
So far, no worrisome air quality readings being monitored during the venting and burning process have been detected from the scene, Shapiro said during a news conference three hours after the procedure started.
The controlled burn would send phosgene and hydrogen chloride into the air with phosgene a highly toxic gas that could lead to vomiting and trouble breathing. It’s so potent soldiers used it as a weapon in World War I.
Scott Deutsch, of Norfolk Southern Railway said Monday that doing the release during the daytime would avert a massive explosion that could send shrapnel and other debris flying through the surrounding neighborhood.
“We can’t control where that goes,” he said.
About three hours into the action, Norfolk Southern Railway said experts and first responders had breached the rail cars and the cars were expected to drain for several more hours as the chemicals burned off.
Half of East Palestine’s 4,800 residents were forced to leave their homes over the weekend along with the handful of homes in Pennsylvania.
The forced evacuation started Sunday night after authorities grew worried the rail cars could explode following a “drastic temperature change” in them.
Police cars, snow plows and military vehicles from the Ohio National Guard blocked streets leading to the area as residents packed overnight bags and searched for hotel rooms to stay.
One person was arrested Sunday night for going around the barricades and going right up to the crash site, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conway said.
“I don’t know why anybody would want to be up there; you’re breathing toxic fumes if you’re that close,” he said.
About 50 cars derailed Friday night that was caused by a mechanical issue with a rail car axle, federal investigators said. The crew received an alert about the mechanical issue “shortly before the derailment,” said National Transportation and Safety Board member Michael Graham.
Village resident Eric Whiting told CNN his family fled with his wife and three kids Friday after the derailment, but returned home Saturday before cops knocked on their door Sunday morning.
The family, along with their dog, is staying at a hotel 20 minutes away.
“It’s difficult. I’m in a cheap motel because I’m afraid of how much they’ll be willing to reimburse me for. It’s hard to take my laptop out (to work) and focus when I’m worried about getting food for the family throughout the day,” Whiting told CNN.
With Post wires