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The Guardian

Blaze from 50-car train derailment in Ohio still burning

About 50 cars derailed in East Palestine Ohio, at about 9pm EST on Friday.

Freight train cars continued to burn on Saturday, sending up heavy smoke, following a derailment that prompted an evacuation order and a declaration of a state of emergency in an Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line in the US.

About 50 cars derailed in East Palestine at about 9pm EST on Friday as a train was carrying products from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, rail operator Norfolk Southern said on Saturday. There was no immediate information about what caused the derailment. No injuries or damage to structures were reported.

Mayor Trent Conaway of the village of East Palestine declared a state of emergency, citing a “train derailment with hazardous materials”. Air quality was being monitored throughout a one-mile zone that was evacuated and there had been no dangerous readings to report, he said.

The rail operator said the train had more than 100 cars, 20 of which were classified as carrying hazardous materials – defined as cargo that could pose any kind of danger “including flammables, combustibles, or environmental risks”.

Fire chief Keith Drabick said officials were most concerned about a shipment of the chemical vinyl chloride, but safety features of the rail car carrying that were still functioning. “The rail car that was carrying that is doing its job,” he said.

Vinyl chloride, used to make the polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin used in a variety of plastic products, is associated with increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers, according to the US federal government’s National Cancer Institute.

Emergency crews would keep their distance until rail officials told them it was safe to approach, Drabick said: “When they say it’s time to go in and put the fire out, my guys will go in and put the fire out.”

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

Officials said 68 agencies from three states and a number of counties responded to the derailment, which happened about 50 miles north-west of Pittsburgh.

The US National Transportation Safety Board said on Saturday that it was “launching a go-team to investigate” the derailment.

Conaway said surveillance from the air showed “an entanglement of cars” with fires still burning and heavy smoke continuing to billow from the scene as officials tried to determine what was in each car from the labels outside. The evacuation order and shelter-in-place warnings would remain in effect until further notice, officials said.

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