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Derailed train in Eastern Ohio still smoldering; evacuation becomes mandatory

Norfolk and Southern freight trail derailed near East Palestine, Ohio
Norfolk and Southern freight trail derailed near East Palestine, Ohio

Officials were working to prevent any major explosion from the smoldering wreckage of an Ohio train derailment near the Pennsylvania state line as the governor activated the Ohio National Guard to help the village where many residents had to evacuate.

The village of East Palestine said Monday morning that authorities would begin to enforce what had previously been a strongly recommended evacuation zone within a 1-mile radius of the crash site.

Officials had warned hundreds of nearby residents who had declined to evacuate to do so Sunday night, saying a rail car was at risk of a potential explosion that could launch deadly shrapnel as far as a mile.

They warned of “the potential of a catastrophic tanker failure” after a “drastic temperature change” was observed in that rail car, according to a statement from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office. It did not specify what was in that car or whether it was among those that had been carrying hazardous materials.

About 50 cars derailed in a fiery crash Friday night as the train carried a variety of products from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, rail operator Norfolk Southern said. No injuries to crew, residents or first responders were reported.

Federal investigators say the cause was a mechanical issue with a rail car axle. The three-member train crew received an alert about the mechanical defect “shortly before the derailment," Michael Graham, a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Sunday. Graham said investigators identified the exact “point of derailment” but the board was still working to determine which rail car experienced the axle issue.

A preliminary investigative report is expected in the next month or so.

East Palestine officials have said emergency responders were monitoring but keeping their distance from the fire, and that remediation efforts could not begin while the cars smoldered.