UPDATE: No Timeline for When East Palestine Residents Can Return Home

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – While touting the success of the controlled explosion and reporting all the highly explosive five train cars are no longer burning, officials at a Tuesday afternoon press conference had few answers for when residents can return home.

“Four of the cars have been cleared from the wreckage already,” Scott Deutsch of Norfolk-Southern said of the five cars that had contained vinyl chloride and had to be breached in a controlled method Monday afternoon to avoid a catastrophic explosion. “We will continue to work our way down to get to the fifth car through all the damaged cars around it.”

Deutsch said the cars will be staged so they can be inspected by the National Transportation Safety Board, then they will be cut up and hauled away. Fires in the pits around the cars are also out, but while air quality is safe enough for people to work wearing protective gear, it is not known how soon residents will be able to return there.

“Crews continue to monitor this situation at the controlled release site and surrounding affected areas,” fire Chief Keith Drabick said. “We continue to receive that real-time data, air and water samples, which are currently being analyzed. I would like to thank the community and its residents for your patience, understanding and cooperation throughout this process. Maintaining everyone’s safety is our highest priority.”

Once the data allows people to safely return – and when it’s safe for his own family to return, Drabick added – residents will be allowed to go to their homes. Currently, residents remain evacuated from east of Market Street between East Highland to the north and Jimtown Road to the south.

He emphasized that he wants nothing more than to get residents of his town back into their homes. However, he was unable to give anyone at the press conference a timeline, which particular chemicals are still of concern or what benchmarks they were looking to reach before reopening the evacuation area. He noted he is waiting for the experts to create the plan to determine it is safe.

“I’m a fireman,” Drabick said. “I put fires out.”

Earlier during the press conference, James Justice of the U.S. EPA detailed efforts to monitor the air quality, while Mike Eberle of the Ohio EPA explained efforts to check on water quality. Additional information was shared about the two units from the Ohio National Guard. One is the 135th Military Police Company from Chagrin Falls, and another the 52nd Civil Support Team from Columbus.  

The second group will be working with the EPA and Norfolk Southern to provide air monitoring, including going to residences and businesses to sample buildings and basements to provide the most accurate real-time data to help make those decisions about when it is safe. The 52nd Civil Support Team has onsite laboratories and monitoring systems stationed around town.

In addition to the help Norfolk-Southern is offering to residents, Deutsch said at some point the railroad officials would be coming to businesses to provide them with help as needed.

Many residents have been out of their homes since the train derailed Friday evening.

Pictured at top: Andy Wilson, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.