As federal investigators tried to figure out why a 150-car train derailed in northeastern Ohio, the state’s governor warned late Sunday that unstable temperatures inside a car carrying chemicals could lead to an explosion.
The area most at risk of being affected by Friday’s crash, which is within a 1-mile radius of the crash in the eastern Palestine village, was evacuated early Saturday and remained off limits, officials said.
But Governor Mike DeWine’s office said an estimated 500 residents remained in the 1-mile zone. It said they were subject to an “urgent warning” to evacuate.
“During the last two hours there has been a drastic temperature change in a train car, and there is now the potential of a catastrophic tanker failure that could trigger an explosion with potentially deadly shrapnel traveling up to a mile,” the governor said. office said in a statement.
The governor’s office said residents with children who stay could be arrested. It cited a threat from the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office.
At 8 p.m., the governor ordered Ohio National Guard troops into eastern Palestine to assist local authorities, his office said.
The crash site caused multiple small explosions or bursts of combustion after several cars believed to be carrying hazardous materials erupted during the derailment, which was reported at 8:55 p.m. Friday, and continued to burn Sunday morning.
Among the wreckage were about 50 cars that had skidded off the track, officials said. National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham on Sunday identified at least 10 of them as “hazmat cars,” or vehicles carrying hazardous materials or chemicals. Five of them were said to be carrying a worrying chemical, vinyl chloride.
A train enthusiast whose backyard faces the east-west rail line used by Norfolk Southern said the area of the derailment is a straight stretch.
Federal investigators have focused in part on the role of a possible mechanical failure, officials said Sunday.
The train’s crew said an alarm was sounded indicating such a malfunction just before the accident, Graham said at a news conference.
In addition, two videos of the train obtained by NTSB investigators show that one of the train cars may have had a broken or failed axle, Graham said Sunday.
The crew — a driver, a conductor and a conductor trainee — were able to stop the train Friday evening and then disconnect the three engines from the wagons, many of which were on fire, officials said. No injuries were initially reported.
Vinyl chloride, which is highly flammable, has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and can be unhealthy because it gives off an odor that humans can smell.
The chemical, which is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, car upholstery and picnic utensils, has been linked to an increased risk of liver, brain and lung cancer, as well as some blood cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Environmental Protection Agency employees have been in eastern Palestine since Friday evening monitoring air and water, two EPA officials said at Sunday’s news conference.
In a statement on Saturday, the East Palestine village said it had discovered “zero health risks” so far.
“The drinking water in the village is safe to drink and is constantly monitored,” the statement said.
The NTSB led the investigation.