Tempers flare at Paulsboro train wreck meeting

PAULSBORO, N.J. - December 5, 2012

The pressure has been building among residents who are increasingly worried about their health.

The open house definitely did not go as federal, state and local officials planned.

There was a line wrapped around the middle school a half hour before the doors opened with hundreds of frustrated residents looking for answers.

There were people with questions about the evacuation zone.

"We're wondering why those people that are so far away have been evacuated and we have not," said one resident.

There were others with growing health concerns.

"My son has been coughing like crazy since this happened," said Tennile Blake. "I've been lightheaded, dizzy."

Residents were suppose to walk from one table to the next learning about air monitoring, public health and community assistance from EPA, Coast Guard and Conrail officials after last week's toxic train derailment.

But it turned into confrontations.

"No one has said anything to us," said Samuel Davis. "They just tell us to come here, and you come here, and it's pure nonsense. It's disorganized."

A state environmental protection official tried to explain that respiratory problems should be minimal with no long term effects.

"Right now the public health is good. They are in good shape; the air levels and the samples are very low," said Lawrence Ragonese, N.J. Department of Environmental Protection.

But in the end, many people walked out unsatisfied.

"We're not going to get the proper answers that we need," said Treva Oster.

Officials say they will keep communicating with Paulsboro residents. They plan to announce another open house soon.

Earlier, Chopper 6 was over the two cranes that have been brought to the area to clean up the mess on the Mantua Creek.

First, however, crews at the crash site will have to offload the remaining 600 to 800 gallons of vinyl chloride from the ruptured tank car.

"We are in very good shape right now. We are moving ahead in removing the product from the tank car," said Kathleen Moore from the U.S. Coast Guard.

That operation is expected to take another three to four days.

When that's complete they'll be able to use the cranes to start untangling the mess and get all of the tanker cars out of the water and back onto the tracks.

It will be a painstaking operation to minimize the risk of rupturing another tanker loaded with vinyl chloride.

Meanwhile, residents of nearly 150 homes have been evacuated and are being sheltered at hotels and a high school.

Officials tripled the size of the evacuation zone Tuesday night and lifted the shelter in place advisory for the rest of the town.

Those we talked to are not happy.

"I'm extremely frustrated over this," said Debbie Kimmerly. "Getting home from work now and getting a call from my friend that I can't get down my street."

Police a patrolling the evacuation zone and are quickly stopping anyone who ventures past the barricades. They are also keeping a close eye on empty homes and businesses to prevent looting.

Scores of people were overcome by the fumes when the train derailed last Friday. Since then, officials have issued on again and off again shelter in place advisories.

Now, everyone outside the evacuation zone is free to move about, but the schools remain closed.

"The kids are off from school, and they want to go back. Mom Mom wants them to go back. But they can't so we're coping," said Carol Kessler.

"We have our cats with us and they are doing fine, so it's pretty cool for us to be away from home for a lot of days," said Alexis Mallar.

Copyright © 2024 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.