Ohio officials will implement a “controlled release” of gas at the train car derailment site in East Palestine at 3:30 p.m. EST to prevent a catastrophic explosion, Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) said Monday afternoon.
Fires have burned at the site of the derailment since Friday, but the risk of an explosion increased over the weekend as officials continued to monitor the presence of vinyl chloride and other chemicals. Officials have been ordering people to evacuate in a 1-by-2-mile area, citing the release of gas or the possibility of a severe explosion, under threat of arrest.
“Folks in [the] red area are at risk of death,” DeWine said.
Governor DeWine: “Folks in red area are at risk of death.” These evacuations are mandatory. @WPXI pic.twitter.com/X3MBD3zEZL
— Amy Hudak (@amy_hudak) February 6, 2023
Between 1,500 and 2,000 of the town’s 4,900 residents were covered by the evacuation order, according to The Washington Times. As of Sunday night, most people had been evacuated, but around 25% of those under the order were refusing to leave.
On Monday, local officials threatened to charge people ignoring the order with misconduct in an emergency, a fourth-degree misdemeanor. The charge would be increased to a first-degree misdemeanor if they refused to evacuate children.
“Again, we will be enforcing the evacuation zone. Please, for your own safety, remove your families from danger,” said the sheriff.
The crash involved around 50 train cars and occurred about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Ohio National Guard was dispatched over the weekend and is in the area, too.
Federal investigators have determined that the crash was caused by an issue with a rail car axle. Sometime before the train derailed, crew members were alerted to a mechanical problem. As of this weekend, authorities have not determined where exactly on the train the failure occurred.
A shelter-in-place order had initially been given for the town, but Gov. DeWine later urged people within one mile of the derailment to evacuate. As of 8:00 a.m. on Monday, anyone who evacuated was no longer allowed to return home.