Officials blew up several train cars filled with toxic gas Monday after derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, causing an explosion several hundred feet high in the air and sending a plume of black smoke into the sky. The sky can be seen for miles.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said at least five of these vehicles were carrying vinyl chloride, a carcinogen used in plastic manufacturing that, if inhaled, can cause burns inside a person’s airways and lungs. Because of the risk of gas leaking, Norfolk Southern Railroad made the decision to conduct a “controlled release” to ignite the deadly chemicals instead of waiting for them to dissipate naturally.
Before the planned blast, which took place around 3:30 p.m. local time, DeWine and neighboring Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro evacuated a 2-square-mile area along the state border. . The entire area is home to about 4,800 people, Associated Press reports. It is not yet clear when residents will be able to return to their homes.
“Based on current weather patterns and expected plumes of smoke and smoke, anyone staying in a red affected area faces a serious risk of death,” said DeWine said in a press release The second outlined the most dangerous areas around the wreck.
Several videos on social media showed the train on fire—as well as the toxic black smoke that enveloped the area for hours as the train’s payload burned.
A local meteorologist even note that the plume of smoke appeared on his weather radar.
Norfolk Southern said Monday night that the operation was “successfully completed”—though the gas could continue to burn through the night.
“The controlled breach of several carriages was successfully completed under the supervision of experts and first responders,” the company wrote in a statement. “Some of the material currently burned is in line with expectations from previous samples and is expected to be exhausted in a few hours.”
Initially, the 50-car train derailed on Saturday morning, startling residents and driving frantically to clear the area immediately. The single-digit drop in frigid temperatures also complicated the efforts of first responders to the scene, including several fire trucks with frozen water pumps, according to AP news agency.
The Columbiana County Sheriff even announced that residents who do not obey the governor’s evacuation orders will be arrested — including a first-degree misdemeanor for any household with children.