Hundreds evacuated in Willard

Hundreds of homes were evacuated early Wednesday morning after a CSX tank car derailed in Willard, spilling thousands of gallons of a highly flammable liquid.

Joe Reiderman, fire chief of Willard Fire Department, said the fire department received the report of a tank car puncture at 11:42 p.m. Tuesday and began evacuating homes within a half mile of the site after determining the chemical involved was styrene monomer, a highly-flammable liquid.

He estimated about 12,500 gallons of the chemical leaked out of the tank car.

“We are working with CSX and clean-up contractors along with Ohio EPA, U.S. EPA, and local EMA and various other agencies to mitigate the situation,” Reiderman said at a news conference Wednesday evening.

Although the leak was stopped around 3:20 a.m. Wednesday, agencies continued to monitor the air quality throughout the day, he said.

Four hundred homes in Willard and 20 to 25 homes outside of the city limits were evacuated, Willard City Manager Brian Humphress said at the news conference. Humphress said he expected residents to be able to return to their homes sometime today.

Meanwhile, CSX has put the residents up at hotels in the city and in neighboring cities.

Humphress said a shelter also has been set up at Willard High School.

The cause of the derailment, which occurred in the Willard Rail Yard near the underpasses on North Main Street, has not yet been determined, Humphress said.

Kevin Clouse, assistant chief of emergency response with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the EPA has listed the situation as “high-priority” and responders are to remain at the site through the weekend.

“We will have our responders on scene 24 hours a day throughout the holiday weekend to make sure all environment issues are being addressed,” he said. “We’re working on trying to clean up this as soon as possible.”

Clouse said as of Wednesday evening, data showed low levels of the chemical. He said styrene monomer, used primarily in the production of plastic and rubber, is an irritant.

“We haven’t seen any levels that would indicate a hazard at this point,” he said.

James Justice, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. EPA, said Wednesday there has been no evidence of off-site migration and most of the air contamination is restricted to a small area around the spill.

Rusty Orben, director of public affairs for CSX, said the company’s primary focus is to take care of those affected by the derailment and spill.

Orben said hotel accomodations have been established and a traditional Thanksgiving meal will be provided to those affected by the derailment 1-4 p.m. today at the high school. CSX also was providing food for residents at local restaurants, he said.

“Our priorty is to make sure those affected by this incident are well served,” Orben said.

“The main thing is focusing on getting people back into homes,” Humphress said.

He said no injuries were reported as a result of the derailment.