Officials detonated several train cars filled with toxic gas Monday after a derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, causing an explosion that reached several hundred feet into the air and sent a plume of black smoke into the sky that could be seen for miles.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said at least five of the cars were carrying vinyl chloride, a cancerous substance used in plastic production that, if inhaled, could cause internal burns to a person’s airway and lungs. Because of the risk that the gas was already leaking, Norfolk Southern Railroad made the decision to instigate a “controlled release” to burn off the deadly chemicals rather than wait for them to dissipate naturally.
Prior to the planned explosion, which took place around 3:30 p.m. local time, DeWine and the governor of neighboring Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, evacuated an area of two square miles along the states’ borders. It remains unclear when residents will be able to return to their homes.
“Based on current weather patterns and the expected flow of the smoke and fumes, anyone who remains in the red affected area is facing grave danger of death,” DeWine said in a press release Monday which outlined the most dangerous areas surrounding the wreck.
A number of videos on social media captured the train going up in flames—as well as the toxic cloud of dark smoke lingering over the site for hours as the train’s payload burned out.
One local meteorologist even noted that the plume showed up on his weather radar.
The 50-car train initially derailed Saturday morning, startling residents and setting off a mad dash to clear the immediate area. Frigid temperatures dipping down into the single digits also complicated efforts by first responders arriving at the scene, including several fire trucks whose water pumps froze, according to the Associated Press.
The Columbiana County Sheriff even announced that residents who did not obey the governor’s evacuation order would be subject to arrest—including first-degree misdemeanor charges for any households with children.
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