As federal investigators worked to find out why a 150-car train derailed in northeastern Ohio, the state’s governor warned late Sunday that unstable temperatures in a car transporting chemicals could lead to an explosion.
The area most at risk of being affected by the Friday crash, that within a 1-mile radius of the crash in the village of East Palestine, was evacuated by early Saturday and remained off-limits, officials said.
But Gov. Mike DeWine’s office said an estimated 500 residents remained behind in the 1-mile zone. It said they were subject to an “urgent warning” to evacuate.
“Within the last two hours, a drastic temperature change has taken place in a rail car, 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 governor’s office said in a statement.
The governor’s office said residents with children who stay could be arrested. It cited a threat made by the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office.
At 8 p.m., the governor ordered Ohio National Guard troops to East Palestine to help local authorities, his office said.
East Palestine officials said Monday morning that efforts continued overnight to stabilize the tank cars containing the hazardous materials.
“At this point, there have been no substantial changes,” the statement said.
The one-mile evacuation zone remains in place and roadblocks are being manned by law enforcement. Locals in the area outside of the evacuation zone are advised to remain indoors.
“Residents should also avoid travel to keep the roadways clear for emergency services,” the statement said.
The crash site produced multiple small explosions or outbursts of combustion after multiple cars believed to be transporting hazardous materials erupted in the derailment, reported at 8:55 p.m. Friday, and continued to burn Sunday morning.
The wreckage included roughly 50 cars off-track, officials said. National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham identified at least 10 of them Sunday as “hazmat cars,” or those carrying hazardous materials or chemicals. Five of those were said to be carrying a chemical of concern, vinyl chloride.
A train aficionado whose backyard faces the east-west railway used by Norfolk Southern said the area of the derailment is a straight section.
Federal investigators have focused in part on the role of a possible mechanical malfunction, officials said Sunday.
The train’s crew said an alarm indicating such a malfunction sounded just before the accident, Graham said at a news conference.
In addition, two videos of the train obtained by NTSB investigators show one of the rail cars may have had a broken or malfunctioning axle, Graham said Sunday.
The crew — an engineer, a conductor and a conductor trainee — were able to help bring the train to a stop Friday night and then disconnect its three engines from its cars, many of them burning, officials said. No injuries were initially reported.
Vinyl chloride, which is highly flammable, is linked to increased risk of cancer, and it can be unhealthful at the level of emitting a scent humans can smell.
The chemical, which is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, vehicle upholstery and picnic utensils, has been linked to increased risk of liver, brain and lung cancer, as well as some cancers of the blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Environmental Protection Agency personnel have been in East Palestine since Friday night and were monitoring air and water, two EPA officials said at Sunday’s news conference.
In a statement Saturday, the village of East Palestine said “zero health risks” had been discovered so far.
“The village’s drinking water is safe to drink and is being continually monitored,” it said.
The NTSB was leading the investigation.