50-car train derails in Ohio but bumbling Buttigieg bounces in NH poll

A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order and a declaration of a state of emergency in an Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line, covering the area in billows of smoke lit orange by the flames below.

The incident is the latest disaster to fall under the jurisdiction of U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose time on the job has been marked by serious problems like Southwest Airlines’ Christmastime debacle and the computer outage at the Federal Aviation Administration brought flights to a standstill —a 90-minute grounding of all air traffic that was the first time that happened since 9/11.

Despite his rash of screwups, a Granite State poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire says Buttigieg — and not his boss Joe Biden — is the top choice of Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire for the 2024 presidential election.

About 50 cars derailed in East Palestine as a train was carrying a variety of freight from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, rail operator Norfolk Southern said in a statement Saturday. There was no immediate information about what caused the derailment. No injuries were reported.

Mayor Trent Conaway of the village of East Palestine declared a state of emergency, citing a “train derailment with hazardous materials.” Air quality was being monitored throughout a one-mile zone ordered evacuated and there had been no dangerous readings to report, he said.

Norfolk Southern said the train was carrying more than 100 cars, 20 of which were classified as carrying hazardous materials, defined as cargo that could pose any kind of danger “including flammables, combustibles, or environmental risks.”

President Joe Biden with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday that it was “launching a go-team to investigate” the derailment, and board member Michael Graham would “serve as spokesperson on scene.”

Firefighters had been pulled from the immediate area and unmanned stream devices are being used protectively while crews try to determine which cars were still actively burning, village officials said in a separate statement Saturday that warned residents that they might hear more explosions as the fire burns.

A high school and community center were opened to shelter dozens of people, while residents beyond that radius were urged to stay inside. The few dozen residents sheltering at the high school included Ann McAnlis, who said a neighbor had texted her about the crash.

“She took a picture of the glow in the sky from the front porch,” McAnlis told WFMJ-TV. “That’s when I knew how substantial this was.”

Conaway said firefighters from three states responded. The derailment happened about 82 kilometers northwest of Pittsburgh and within 32 kilometers of the tip of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle. Freezing temperatures in the single digits complicated the response as water being pumped from trucks froze, he said.

Norfolk Southern said it has personnel on-site coordinating with first responders. The fire created so much smoke that meteorologists from the region said it was visible on weather radar.

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