50-car train derailment causes fire, evacuations in Ohio

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) — A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order in an Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line on Friday night, covering the area in billows of smoke lit orange by the flames below.

About 50 cars derailed in East Palestine as a train was carrying a variety of freight from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, rail operator Norfolk Southern said in a statement Saturday. There was no immediate information about what caused the derailment. No injuries were reported.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday that it was “launching a go-team to investigate” the derailment, and board member Michael Graham would “serve as spokesperson on scene.”

Firefighters have been pulled from the immediate area and unmanned stream devices are being used protectively while crews try to determine which cars are still actively burning, village officials said in a separate statement Saturday. They said they hoped to use drones to assess the scene in daylight, and warned that residents might hear more explosions as the fire burns.

The village notified residents that an evacuation order remained in place Saturday morning for people within a mile of the scene. A high school and community center were opened to shelter dozens of people, while residents beyond that radius were urged to stay inside.

The few dozen residents sheltering at the high school included Ann McAnlis, who said a neighbor had texted her about the crash.

“She took a picture of the glow in the sky from the front porch,” McAnlis told WFMJ-TV. “That’s when I knew how substantial this was.”

Mayor Trent Conaway told reporters that firefighters from three states responded. The derailment happened about 82 kilometres northwest of Pittsburgh and within 32 kilometres of the tip of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.

Freezing temperatures in the single digits complicated the response as trucks pumping water froze, Conaway said.

Hazmat crews also responded to the scene to determine whether hazardous materials were involved, and air quality in the area is being monitored, officials said.

Norfolk Southern said it has personnel on-site coordinating with first responders.

The fire created so much smoke that meteorologists from the region said it was visible on weather radar.