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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Officials tell people to stay away from Ohio town where train derailed

Feb. 5, 2023 Updated Sun., Feb. 5, 2023 at 2:17 p.m.

By Andrea Salcedo and Justine McDaniel Washington Post

Authorities on Sunday urged people to stay away from a northeastern Ohio town where a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed two days earlier, causing an explosion that shot flames into the air.

A state of emergency order will remain in place until at least Monday evening, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway said at a Sunday news conference.

On Saturday, Conaway ordered 1,500 residents within a one-mile radius of the derailment to evacuate his town near the Pennsylvania border. On Sunday, he said they and others should continue to avoid the area.

“I can’t stress enough that if you’re in the evacuation zone, you need to leave,” Conaway said at the news conference Sunday, adding that those who had stayed should shelter in place.

“Please stay away from East Palestine,” Conaway said. “Please stay away from the wreck. I don’t want to say it’s a dangerous situation, but it is still a very volatile situation.”

The hazardous chemicals posed a threat for emergency responders, who had not tried to put out the flames that were still burning Sunday afternoon, East Palestine Fire Chief Keith A. Drabick said at the news conference.

“As of right now, we are still not conducting any on-scene operations,” Drabick said. “It’s still too volatile of an area.”

Fifty cars of a Norfolk Southern train derailed about 9 p.m. Friday, local officials said. Twenty of them contained hazardous materials, including carcinogenic vinyl chloride, according to federal officials. They said they were unable to answer whether vinyl chloride was burning.

Authorities assured residents that their water was drinkable and that no dangerous emissions had been detected as of Sunday.

But some residents worried about what chemicals could be in the air and the water as they sought a place to shelter until authorities say it’s safe enough for them to return.

Nate Velez, 31, who said he lives two streets from the train tracks, told the Washington Post on Saturday that his family had found accommodations outside the area until Monday.

They joined three family members who live on the opposite side of the train tracks and went to a hotel. On Saturday, they relocated to an Airbnb about half an hour away.

“I worry about any smoke damage at my shop and the possibility of smoke [or] vapor damage at home,” Velez said Saturday. “I was also thinking about the chemicals and materials. … I’m worried about the long-term effects at this point.”

The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach contributed to this report.

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