Hundreds of Willard residents were evacuated from their homes early Wednesday morning after a derailed train tanker leaked flammable liquids for almost four hours.
Officials walked door to door starting at 1 a.m., alerting about 400 households to the immediate danger in their neighborhoods.
More than 200 people sought shelter at an American Red Cross relief station at Willard High School overnight, Willard police Chief Mark Holden said. By 9 a.m., most of those residents had left — either headed to work or other homes or hotel rooms paid for by CSX Transportation.
One South Church Street family didn’t leave home until well after daylight because they didn’t answer their door when officials knocked at about 2 a.m.
Kristen Felty, her daughter Candice, and relative Neva Rodriguez called the fire department when they awoke.
“You should’ve been gone last night,” firefighters told Rodriguez, who quickly put the turkey breasts she was thawing for Thanksgiving dinner back in the fridge and then grabbed what she could and left.
“I don’t want to spend our Thanksgiving in a hotel, or in some back room on a cot,” Rodriguez said.
While state and federal EPA officials and numerous cleanup crews worked to make the area safe for the better part of Wednesday morning, it’s still unknown when residents can return to their homes.
Holden was hoping it would be sometime later Wednesday, but the possibility remains that some folks won’t return home until today.
The spill happened at about 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, Willard city manager Brian Humphress said.
A 26,000-gallon CSX train tanker slipped off the rails, causing a 4-inch hole to leak a hazardous chemical.
The chemical, styrene monomer, is an oily, colorless to yellowish liquid with a distinctive aromatic odor. It is flammable, reactive, and toxic, sparingly soluble in water and soluble in alcohols, ethers and carbon disulfide.
The train car derailed at Willard Train Yard on Main Street. The evacuation area included homes west of Washburn Road, north of Townline and Niver roads, northeast of Second Street, south of Tiffin Street and southeast of Myrtle Avenue, Humphress said.
Jeff Feltner, who lives within the half-mile evacuation zone, said he didn’t hear the derailment.
“Usually you hear the trains, but last night it was just silent. It was quiet as it has ever been,” Feltner said.
Feltner said he initially didn’t want to leave home.
“They said, ‘We’re going to arrest people if they don’t leave,’” Feltner said.
Reluctantly he set out for the high school, catching a whiff of the leaking chemical along the way.
“I suppose it’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said.
Red Cross volunteers from the Firelands, Lorain and Cleveland areas arrived at about 2 a.m., Red Cross worker Kevin Sauer said.“We’re staying until we get the all-clear,” Sauer said. “We’re not going to leave anybody without a warm place to stay.”
Emergency responders are going door-to-door getting residents out of their homes after a rail car was breached causing a spill of a highly-flammable chemical.
"There was a derailment and a leak in a 26,000 gallon tanker," said Brian Humphress, Willard city manager. "The spill has been contained."
The chemical, styrene monomer, is a colorless to yellowish oily liquid with a distinctive aromatic odor. It is sparingly soluble in water but soluble in alcohols, ethers and carbon disulfide. It is flammable, reactive and toxic. The breach — approximately a four-inch hole in the tanker rail car — leaked the chemical for about four hours before it was able to be sealed.
WIllard Fire Department and police responded to the emergency call after it came in at 11:42 p.m. on Tuesday.
"The cleanup could be a long process," Humphress said. "There's no timeframe right now but we're hoping it will be within the next few hours."
Homes within a half-mile radius are being evacuated. Residents are being evacuated to Willard High School and some are being put up in hotel rooms by CSX, the railroad company, in Tiffin, Sandusky and Willard, Humphress said.
The evacuation area includes Washburn Road to the West; Townline Roadd/Niver Road to the north; Second Street to the northeast; Myrtle Avenue to the southeast; and Tiffin to the South.
A listing of updates from the City of Willard Twitter page: (In order of newest to oldest)
We will also contact the news media, and of course will make an announcement via this Twitter account
As soon as we can reliably know when the residents can return to the area, we will send out notification through the Everbridge alert system
Unfortunately, the evacuation order will remain in place for most of today. It is possible that it may remain until tonight or even tomorrow.
We are working with the professional clean-up crew hired by CSX to handle this situation and to determine when the area will be safe again.
While these businesses may be open, you are advised to be careful going into the area. DO NOT go west of Myrtle Avenue.
The post office and the businesses on the east side of Myrtle Ave in the Historic Downtown area are just outside the evacuation zone.
The evacuation order is still in effect; the area still provides a serious danger to the general public.
Despite what may be reported on Facebook or other sources, there has NOT been an "all clear" notification for the evacuation area.
We will advise when further information is available.
Again, if you live within a one-half mile of the Main Street underpasses, LEAVE YOUR HOME NOW. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
If you or someone you knows lives in the area and needs transportation to evacuate, contact the Willard Police Dept. (419-933-2561) for help
Willard Public Safety and CSX Clean-up Crews are on the scene, but the situation is very dangerous, and the cleanup will take a while.
We will advise through the alert system when you can return to your homes.
Again, if you are in the affected area, for your and your family's safety, LEAVE NOW.
We have established a shelter at the Willard High School in the Commons/Gymnasium area.
If you, or someone you know, live in the affected area, please leave NOW. The boundaries of the area are: Washburn Rd to the West; Townline Rd/Niver Rd to the North; Second St to the Northeast; Myrtle Ave to the Southeast; & Tiffin to the South.
The chemical, styrene monomer, is highly flammable, and so we have ordered an evacuation of the potential blast area.
The incident occurred in the Willard Rail Yard near the underpasses on North Main Street.
A rail car, containing highly flammable liquid, has developed a significant hole and the liquid is pouring out of the tank.
We have an emergency situation in the City of Willard at this time.
Check back here for updates.