(Willard, Ohio – November 27, 2013)
The CSX railroad derailment just before midnight Tuesday night of four freight cars, three of them tank cars carrying hazardous materials, and the puncture of one carrying 26,000 gallons of styrene monomer, a highly-flammable, petroleum-derivative liquid used primarily in the manufacture of polystyrene plastics, translated into a less-than-happy Thanksgiving holiday for hundreds of residents of Willard, OH, who lived in between 400 and 500 homes just west of downtown, and who were evacuated around 2:30 A.M. Wednesday.
Although only one car of two loaded with styrene monomer leaked through a four-inch puncture, the leak went unplugged for several hours, enabling about half the sweet-smelling, rapidly-evaporating substance to permeate the atmosphere sufficiently to necessitate the evacuation. The other two derailed cars carried butyl acrylate, which also is caustic to the eyes and exposed flesh, and non-hazardous corn syrup.
Willard residents affected by the evacuation were moved to rooms at the Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn and Quality Inn hotels and motels in areas of town far from the CSX railroad yard, or in a shelter set up at the community’s high school. CSX was picking up the tab for accommodations and meals for the refugee families, but sleeping on cots or bedrolls in a high school gymnasium and being fed en-masse at a hastily-devised food line was far from the Thanksgiving to which most Willard residents were accustomed. As evacuee Jennifer Barnett, who was with her husband and three children, all of whom were quickly taken from their home without their personal vehicle, surmised, “Most likely, we’re not going to have Thanksgiving with our family.”
Chances of the evacuation being lifted as early as mid-day Thursday were slim as officials predicted the emergency conditions might well last into Saturday for those who lived closest to the CSX rail yard. Willard is about 65 miles west of Cleveland, OH.
CSX Spokesman Gary Sease reported that the tank cars involved were of the DOT-111 variety, a heavily-utilized tank car on American, Canadian and Mexican railroads and which NBC News Investigations had exposed this past September to have a serious design flaw. NBC said that “At least five times since 1991, the National Transportation Safety Board has raise concerns about the design of the car, including its relatively thin metal skin.”
While Willard police and fire dept. personnel scoured the evacuated area for pets left behind in the urgency of the operation, taking them to the local animal shelter where residents could reclaim their furry friends once the emergency was over, Ohio Governor John Kasich confirmed that he would travel to Willard Thanksgiving Day to meet with Willard city and CSX officials as well as join evacuees at the Thanksgiving dinner at the high school.